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30 March 2011

Clegg talks down nuclear power

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

By George Eaton

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.