“Private sector will build nuclear plants,” says Huhne

The BBC reports:

New nuclear plants will be built in the UK as part of the move towards a green economy, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has said.

Mr Huhne told the BBC that breaking the dependence on traditional fossil fuels was vital. The minister said the market would decide which types of low-carbon energy would be used, but he believes nuclear investors are waiting to come forward.

He ruled out specific government subsidies for the new power stations.

Chris was speaking on the BBC1’s Andrew Marr programme, Sunday AM, and confirmed:

My position and my party’s position was always one of scepticism about the economics of nuclear power, but what we did in the coalition agreement is recognise the differences between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

“We responded with an agreement which will say very clearly there will be no public subsidy for nuclear because it is an old technology… But at the same time, if investors come forward with proposals it is absolutely clear they will go through. We believe that will happen. We believe there are investors who will be investing in new nuclear.”

Here’s a reminder of what the Coalition Agreement stated:

Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations provided they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new national planning statement) and provided also that they receive no public subsidy.

We have agreed a process that will allow Liberal Democrats to maintain their opposition to nuclear power while permitting the government to bring forward the national planning statement for ratification by Parliament so that new nuclear construction becomes possible.

This process will involve:

  • the government completing the drafting of a national planning statement and putting it before Parliament;
  • specific agreement that a Liberal Democrat spokesman will speak against the planning statement, but that Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain; and
  • clarity that this will not be regarded as an issue of confidence.

As Mark Pack blogged on the Agreement:

… this deal is very similar to that over Trident; if the financial case for a straight Trident replacement/nuclear really doesn’t stack up (in the way many campaigners have claimed in the past) then it won’t happen. But if those campaigners are wrong and the finances do stack up, they will go ahead.

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19 Comments

  • Andrea Gill 2nd Aug '10 - 11:57am

    Why is no nuclear party policy when clearly so many prefer the coalition approach? My partner didn’t vote for us precisely because of this one policy

  • Andrea Gill 2nd Aug '10 - 11:59am

    Can we do a poll of LDV members to see people’s views on nuclear? I have heard from a few members and potential voters who were put off by refusal to allow new nuclear.

  • @Andrea – suppose it depends on the question asked – do you want nuclear power? or do you want more nuclear waste which we still don’t know where we can safely store for over 1,000 years?

  • Andrea Gill 2nd Aug '10 - 2:22pm

    @lloyd – the point is is it realistic to expect “green” resources to pick up our energy needs, and should we stop researching more efficient, less waste-prone nuclear alternatives?

  • Colin Green 2nd Aug '10 - 3:00pm

    “No Nuclear” was a sensible policy in the 80s when global warming by greenhouse gas emissions hadn’t been heard of but the public were all too aware of [early designs of] nuclear power station melt down.

    24 years on from Chernobyl and the world is a different place. Coal fired power stations are a much greater threat to the environment and disruption of imported fossil fuel supplies is a bigger political threat. The world needs nuclear power if it is to start the wholesale reduction of green house gas emissions. I agree that fission power is not the solution, in that it is not the end game. It is, however, the best the present has to offer. We need to start now and we need to start fast. Renewables are good but will not save the world on their own. We need to do nuclear in parallel with all the renewables we can get just to make a dent in greenhouse gas pollution.

    Nuclear power stations have a life of maybe 50 years. They can be refitted and will last for perhaps another 50. That gives us 100 years to plan and implement a total renewable solution. It will take all of those 100 years to wean the world off its fossil fuel habit. Look on nuclear as a stepping stone to bridge the gap from where we are to where we need to be.

    Nuclear energy is the one big policy area where I disagree with the wider Lib Dem membership and is one of the reasons I delayed joining the party for so long. I believe we should revisit our party’s position on nuclear power in the light of climate change. Whilst it is not a pleasant option, neither is burning more coal.

    I agree with Chris Huhne that there should be no government money given to private companies to make nuclear power stations. The technology is now well proven so there is no need for government funding. We do need nuclear power and we should start building now.

  • James from Durham 2nd Aug '10 - 3:13pm

    Nuclear Power makes me very queasy. There are the problems with disposal, the immense risks of “accidents” and the possibility of terrorists targetting the reactors (Now that would be a bank to dwarf even the Twin Towers). There is also the record of carelessness and secretiveness taht the industry has demonstrated on many occasions.

    We should not be in this position, because we should have been investing in developing cleaner energy for the last 13 years. However, we have wasted the last 13 years (big thank you to the Labour Party) and now we need to do something fast. Nuclear Power does work now. I don’t like it but I think this may be the only choice left on the table.

  • There is every reason to think that a renewed nuclear programme would take a long time to get “up and running”, even without the very dubious assumptions in current climate re – private sector investment. Potential huge problems with major weather events, storms etc, possibly leading to leakage of radioactivity. Renewable energy is also up and running, and likely to become much more cost efficient. Insulation best way of quick bridging the gap with fossil fuels.

  • Andrew Duffield 2nd Aug '10 - 5:58pm

    Provided “no public subsidy” means private nuclear firms will fund their own insurance, then this is absolutely fine.

  • Andrea Gill 2nd Aug '10 - 7:22pm

    @James from Durham – I share your sentiments almost exactly

  • “My position and my party’s position was always one of scepticism about the economics of nuclear power…”

    Ah. Must have been somebody else’s manifesto that said this:
    “[Lib Dems] Reject a new generation of nuclear power stations; based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy. ” (Pg 59)

    And someone elses website that says this:
    “Nuclear has a dirty legacy and increases global security risks. We oppose construction of further nuclear power stations.

    Someone else’s policy brief which says:
    “No to nuclear and dirty coal. The power stations we rely on are not only threatening the climate, many of them are coming to the end of their useful life. As we replace them, we have to move on from old technologies. We will not waste taxpayer subsidies on nuclear power. And we will block any plans for dirty coal power stations. ”

    And someone else’s policy paper which says:
    Liberal Democrats oppose the Labour Government’s plan to build a new generation of nuclear power plants. Nuclear power remains an excessively expensive form of energy generation that requires some type of public subsidy, if only to place a cap on liabilities. Building a new round of nuclear power plants will lock this country into centralised and inflexible electricity generation, crowd out investment in renewable energy, microgeneration and CCS and undermine our efforts to promote energy saving. Nuclear generation will continue to produce toxic waste for which there are
    still no safe and acceptable solutions.
    4.4.2 The worldwide growth in civil nuclear generation creates obvious risks of nuclear weapons proliferation by states and the loss of fissile material to terrorist organisations. The UK’s credibility in opposing such moves will be undermined if this country builds a new round of civil nuclear power stations.

    I think we might, just possibly, have had a scepticism that was greater than just the economics.

  • NIce to see Chris being sensible on this. The waste issue seems a bit of red herring. We don’t seem to have difficulties with the nuclear waste already created, so why would more of it be an issue?

  • So why, Tim, has there been so much angst about the long term future of various categories of nuclear waste? Nuclear is already a highly dangerous technology in the numbers of people potentially affected, even without Chernobyl style accidents. Most other technologies have local effects, but not pervasive health repercussions, plus in a more unstable world with likely huge people migrations, more extreme weather events, and likely resource wars, such facilities become targets in themselves. And in case we think these things are all in an unlikely future, just look at news today on weather events around the world, and week in week out on all these scenarios.

    Remember EF Schumacher “Small is beautiful”.

  • Dominic Curran 3rd Aug '10 - 10:08am

    I seem to remember Simon Hughes reasurring us all on the Today programme some weeks ago that even though the Coalition Agreement said there could be nuclear, there was absolutely no chance of the private sector building any without public subsidy, so we shouldn’t worry.

    well, that’s alright then.

  • Andrew Suffield 3rd Aug '10 - 10:26am

    So why, Tim, has there been so much angst about the long term future of various categories of nuclear waste?

    Primarily because of hype and failure to consider the alternatives. Nuclear waste is dangerous and hard to deal with – yes. But we deal with it. Coal burning waste is dangerous (and also radioactive, hey!), hard to deal with, and comes in vastly greater quantities. We’re just pumping it into the air over our cities.

    Stack it up against the alternatives, and nuclear doesn’t look so bad after all.

    Nuclear is already a highly dangerous technology in the numbers of people potentially affected

    Yes. The only things more dangerous being coal and oil.

    Nuclear power has problems. Nobody disputes that. But what we’re currently doing has worse problems, and exactly what alternatives do you propose? Even the most optimistic estimates of the ‘renewable’ energy options only have them providing around 10%-20% of the country’s power.

  • Patrick Smith 3rd Aug '10 - 1:04pm

    It is important to stick with the L/D Energy policy declared in the `Coalition Agreement’ to raise the profile of the carbon footprint and Chris Huhne is the best Government ambassador in decades to achieve the paramount need for new clean energy targets.

    Chris Huhne has stated categorically his target is to reduce and decrease fossil fuels and coal fired stations.

    In China there is a new destructive epidemic of coal fired factories that is patently destroying the delivery of global declarations made by the signatories to clean energy policies and to eliminate this air pollution.This failure to provide cleaner fuel is suffocating this generation of children and people with asthma and acting as a negative to healthy living.

    The prospect of the mother of necessity in the UK that is the inclusion of nuclear powered stations, as part of the required on tap energy mix stills begs serious public health risks.

    When and where is nuclear waste transported through towns and cities?

    Is Government making all nuclear plants accident safety proof for nuclear workers with hindsight to Silkwood and Chernobyl ?

    What is important to understand is that Britian is comprized of 1500 islands, including all the small ones and is a scepted Isle, containing unlimited natural resource capacity to produce a revolution in new state of the art wave and wind turbine safe Energy never seen this century.But is this natural wave power happening?

    Where are the new sea wave investment figures from the new generation of sea wave and wind power stations located off the British coasts ? What is the predicted percentage of clean and safe energy in the future?

  • Andrew, I am not sure what time period you are describing with your 10 – 20% renewables being at “the optimistic end” of predictions. That sort of level of prediction usually comes from fossil – supported sources, and assumes a continuing floor level of R&D in renewables. Recent research – and often quoted by the Lib Dems – is that along with a major insulation programme, we can progress to a renewables – based power industry without nuclear replacement. I note you haven’t denied that it does take many years in practice to get nuclear facilities up and running.

    But let us be honest about this debate, it is not just the waste debate and the dubious economics of nuclear power which make it an undesirable option in an increasingly uncertain world.

  • David Allen 3rd Aug '10 - 10:46pm

    How do you define what is a public subsidy for nuclear? If we impose some form of carbon tax, is that just a way of making the polluter pay, or is it a disguised subsidy for all non-fossil power including nuclear? There isn’t an unambiguous answer.

    At the moment the private sector doesn’t want to invest in anything much at all. Demand for power is in the doldrums. In ten years time we will probably be desperate for power, but right now the economic case for investment is not there. Nuclear plant is the most expensive option in terms of capital cost and the one that takes longest to build. Will it really happen without a subsidy of some sort?

    Chris Huhne’s job is not a simple one!

  • Andrew Suffield 5th Aug '10 - 8:46am

    Recent research – and often quoted by the Lib Dems – is that along with a major insulation programme, we can progress to a renewables – based power industry without nuclear replacement.

    Yes, in which around 80% of the power comes from freshly built coal plants (with better waste management than our current ones). Nobody is making any concrete proposals that give a better figure (some groups say “we want more” but don’t explain how that is to be achieved).

    So it’s just the same old question. Which is better, coal or nuclear? They’re both pretty bad really. Projections say nuclear is preferable in the long run, because coal mining is ecologically devastating no matter how much of the emissions you manage to process.

    Our government’s target is more modest: 15% “renewables” by 2020.

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