The new atomic age


nukesThis week another Liberal Democrat minister has had to abandon party policy for the good of the coalition. On Monday, the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced that eight sites have been approved for use of future nuclear power stations. This came on the same day that Severn barrage, aimed at harnessing the “green” power of the tidal estuary, was scrapped.

This shift in energy policy back towards nuclear is an indication that the Coalition is once again taking a practical view about energy provision, despite the debate being a potential flashpoint between the two parties. With many nuclear plants nearing the end of their life span, a decision about the future of this industry had to be taken. To let nuclear power in the UK lapse would mean that the 20% of electricity that is currently produced would have to be provided by other sources of energy. Renewable energy alone cannot make up this potential shortfall before the current plants become redundant, leaving the government with no alternative except to open new plants to secure Britain’s long-term energy security.

What can be gleaned from the announcement made today is that any decisions regarding energy production will be derived from the ability of the market to provide, rather than being based on government subsidies. The Severn barrage was scrapped because there was no “strategic case” for investing £30 billion of public money into the scheme. Nevertheless, it appears that smaller, privately funded tidal energy projects that do not require taxpayer money will go ahead on the Severn Estuary.

This element of market provision is also present in the nuclear arena, with Mr Huhne stating that the new sites will receive no public subsidy. I hope that this is the case and that market forces are truly allowed to form within the energy sector – only then will the country be able to move on from political point-scoring over energy provision.