Tuesday. 29 July 2014

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Lib Dems face row over change in nuclear policy

Liberal Democrats face a row at this year’s party conference over government plans to press ahead with building nuclear power stations.

It comes as the  nuclear industry is preparing a lobbying campaign at the party conference season to boost confidence following Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat MP and energy secretary in the coalition government, is set to come under attack at the party’s conference next month for supporting new nuclear power plants in the UK after switching from being an opponent. He is set to usher in a new era of nuclear power after opposing it while standing at last year’s general election.

The issues that Fukushima has raised cannot be dealt with simply by a short-term investigation

Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP, letter to Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat MP and energy secretary

The criticism against him is set to be led by Fiona Hall, the Liberal Democrat MEP and energy spokeswoman for the party in the European Parliament. She is demanding a halt on planned new nuclear plants while a review is conducted on safety in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown triggered by the earthquake in Japan in March.

In a letter sent to Huhne that month, she said: “I urge you to insist on a thorough re-assessment of safety procedures for British nuclear reactors, with particular attention being paid to the issue of back-up safety.

“The issues that Fukushima has raised cannot be dealt with simply by a short-term investigation. Public and investor confidence has been shaken.

“Twenty-five years on from the disaster at Chernobyl, the events at the Fukushima plant serve as a reminder of the inherent risks of nuclear power, even in a reactor operating to 21st century standards.”

She told Exaro that Huhne had failed to respond to the letter.

She said: “I think that the coalition government does recognise that the manifesto has a very different view on this.”

“It was not a letter in which I expected a reply that told me anything, it was more that I wanted to tell him formally and officially what I’ve told him many times,” adding, “I kind of know the answer anyway.”

An interim report on lessons that could be learned from Fukushima, by the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation, said similar natural events would not happen here.

Hall stressed that the final report had not been finished yet. “I think that one of the most disturbing things in the UK has been the absence of public debate and the fact that there has been a kind of a conspiracy between the two biggest political parties to downplay the importance of this issue.

“I think that the way this has been handled has been very different in this country than on the continent. Not just in Germany, where it has been a huge debate, but also in other countries that have traditionally been more pro-nuclear. Even in France, there has been a very high level of public debate.

“It is a bit peculiar for the UK to decide unilaterally, to decide that it knew everything.”

She also criticised the government for a lack of transparency on its proposed carbon price floor, which is a tax based on carbon emissions from power stations and will be passed to consumers in their electricity bills.

Nuclear plants have low carbon emissions, and will benefit from higher electricity prices, she said. “It sounds very attractive: we are tracking climate change so we want to make carbon expensive. But, in reality, it is a subsidy for nuclear.”

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