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Nuclear industry to lobby politicians at party conferences

It wants to make sure of UK’s commitment to new plants despite Fukushima meltdown

There is going to need to be some more reassurance

John McNamara, Nuclear Industry Association

Britain’s nuclear industry is gearing up to lobby politicians to make sure that planned new power stations will not be scuppered by Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

Exaro has established that the industry’s bosses are planning a concerted lobbying campaign at this year’s party conference season after Japan’s earthquake in March closed down much of the nuclear industry there and led to a re-think of this type of power generation around the world.

But its efforts are set to be met with hostility by the Liberal Democrats, who face a row over nuclear energy.

Germany has decided to close its nuclear power stations in the wake of the meltdown at Fukushima. The disaster led last week to the announcement that the Mox nuclear fuel plant at Sellafield will be closed with the loss of about 600 jobs.

The UK’s Conservative-led government, which includes the Liberal Democrats as junior partners, had committed to building nuclear power plants at eight sites around the country, next to existing reactors.

But the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) said that the public had been left the wondering whether that commitment was “already doomed” because of Fukushima.

The NIA’s spokesman, John McNamara, confirmed the association’s lobbying effort for this year’s party conference season starting next month. He said that it had previously attended the three main political parties’ annual conferences, but the “context would be considerably different” this year because of Fukushima.

“There is going to need to be some more reassurance,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is seem arrogant that everyone is okay with it. We shall need to have debate.”

He expected the industry to receive less support at the Liberal Democrats’ conference. “There has always been less support among the Lib Dems, who are generally dyed-in-the-wool anti-nuclear. But we tackled that last year and there was very grown-up reaction.”

The association will hold a series of fringe meetings with MPs and host exhibitions, he said. It will also commission an opinion poll of MPs in the next few months to gauge support for the building of nuclear plants.

McNamara said that the industry is confident that the government will remain committed to new nuclear plants, pointing to government plans unveiled last month that would speed up the planning process for big renewable energy projects.

Charles Hendry, energy minister, told the association’s conference last month that Britain’s nuclear industry is about to enjoy a “renaissance”. He said: “The UK has everything to gain from becoming the number one destination to invest in new nuclear.”

The association is determined to “reinforce” its message that “nuclear should be at the heart of our low-carbon economy.”

Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP and energy spokeswoman for the party in the European Parliament, said that the nuclear industry had not had a major presence at past party conferences.

“I think Liberal Democrats certainly take their views with a pinch of salt,” she said. “They are not likely to influence how delegates at conference see things.

“I think there will be a lot of people who will take issue with what they are saying, and I hope a lively discussion will ensue.”

Despite a re-think in Europe following Fukushima, the Economist Intelligence Unit is predicting a massive worldwide rise in nuclear energy over the next decade, especially in China, India and Russia.

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