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.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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