Clegg talks down nuclear power

The Deputy Prime Minister is wrong to cast doubt on the future of nuclear power in Britain.

By comparison with other European countries, most notably Germany, the backlash against nuclear power in Britain has been fairly modest. Following the Fukushima accident, 29 MPs have signed an early-day motion calling on the government to suspend plans for a new nuclear programme but, unlike Angela Merkel, David Cameron has made it clear that atomic power must remain part of the energy mix.

It's for this reason that Nick Clegg's sceptical remarks about nuclear power are worth noting. Speaking to reporters during his trip to Mexico, the Deputy PM stated the obvious truth that energy firms will struggle to raise investment from the private sector for new plants.

But Clegg will be justifiably accused of talking down the industry at a time when it needs more political support than ever. He pointedly noted that the coalition agreement gives him the right to veto the use of public subsidy, adding that "there will be no rowing back on this".

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What Clegg ignores is that the Fukushima crisis has actually strengthened the case for nuclear power.

As George Monbiot wrote in his recent column on the subject:

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

Fukushima has not altered the fact that nuclear power remains one of the safest energy sources. As the graphic above shows, it is now an established part of the energy mix in most developed countries. It should remain so.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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What does François Bayrou's endorsement of Emmanuel Macron mean for the French presidential race?

The support of the perennial candidate for President will boost Macron's morale but won't transform his electoral standing. 

François Bayrou, the leader of the centrist Democratic Movement and a candidate for the French presidency in 2007 and 2012, has endorsed Emmanuel Macron’s bid for the presidency.

What does it mean for the presidential race?  Under the rules of the French electoral system, if no candidate secures more than half the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off.

Since 2013, Marine Le Pen has consistently led in the first round before going down to defeat in the second, regardless of the identity of her opponents, according to the polls.

However, national crises – such as terror attacks or the recent riots following the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man, who was sodomised with a police baton – do result in a boost for Le Pen’s standing, as does the ongoing “Penelopegate” scandal about the finances of the centre-right candidate, François Fillon.

Macron performs the most strongly of any candidate in the second round but struggles to make it into the top two in the first. Having eked out a clear lead in second place ahead of Fillon in the wake of Penelopegate, Macron’s lead has fallen back in recent polls after he said that France’s rule in Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

Although polls show that the lion’s share of Bayrou’s supporters flow to Macron without his presence in the race, with the rest going to Fillon and Le Pen, Macron’s standing has remained unchanged regardless of whether or not Bayrou is in the race or not. So as far as the electoral battlefield is concerned, Bayrou’s decision is not a gamechanger.

But the institutional support of the Democratic Movement will add to the ability of Macron’s new party, En Marche, to get its voters to the polls on election day, though the Democratic Movement has never won a vast number of deputies or regional elections. It will further add to the good news for Macron following a successful visit to London this week, and, his supporters will hope, will transform the mood music around his campaign.

But hopes that a similar pact between Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, and Jean-Luc Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front’s candidate, look increasingly slim, after Mélenchon said that joining up with the Socialists would be like “hanging himself to a hearse”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.