Certain sections of the press and the blogosphere seem to be under the impression that John Hutton today stood up in Parliament and announced a new generation of nuclear power stations. To borrow the phrase of that great philosopher Wayne Campbell, “shuh, as if…”
For starters, the statement is utterly meaningless because Greenpeace are going to seek judicial review over the consultation process again and they’re going to win again because the whole business is clearly living in New Labour La La Land and until ministers take their balls out and stop their pathetic attempts to spin the decision nothing is going to happen.
More fundamentally, however, the Government still hasn’t grasped the fact that if it wants new nuclear power stations it actually has to do something. And no, before all the acolytes of the Book Of Brower rain down on me, it has nothing to do with money (and while we’re at it, if people continue to flagrantly misuse the word subsidy in the context of this debate, I’m going to start cracking heads!)
To take the BBC’s list of the things in the announcement;
- Speed up planning process to make it easier to build plants – Necessary, yes, but you have rather announced it before (when you published the draft Planning Bill, for example…)
- No public subsidies for nuclear except in emergencies – Yes, that has been the case for a number of years and recognizes our existing treaty obligations, but I don’t think a Minister of the Crown should get special credit for knowing what the status quo is
- No limit to amount of electricity generated by nuclear power – What, because there was any chance of you saying “no, you can’t build that one, we’ve already got enough” before?
- New independent body to monitor decommissioning costs – Erm, wouldn’t that be the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which you kind of announced when it was in the Energy Act 2004 and has been operating for two years?
- Trebling of investment in wind and wave power – Yes, but I’m going to take a guess that that’s a trebling from about 50p and so not the windfall it sounds like
- Store nuclear waste at 'interim' facility until suitable underground site found – Again, nice to see you’ve spotted what we’re doing already, but if John Prescott wasn’t as incompetent as, well, John Prescott, it wouldn’t be an issue by now…
Meanwhile, none of this addresses the fundamental block on investment in any form of new generating capacity, namely the “BETTA” electricity market system that was designed, essentially by Enron, to benefit gas-fired station owners like, ooh, Enron, to the detriment of both wind and nuclear. Despite the bluster we’re likely to hear over the next few days from the Church of EnvironMentalism, nuclear does not need and is not looking for brown envelopes of used twenties; what it does need is for the government to really grasp the nettle and put in place an electricity market that recognises that our goal must be low carbon generation, not high brokers fees generation.