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31 May 2011

How many will follow Germany’s anti-nuclear lead?

Angela Merkel’s decision to abandon nuclear power could encourage the Lib Dems to speak out.

By George Eaton

Germany’s extraordinary decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022, described by one newspaper as the energy equivalent of “the fall of the Berlin Wall”, is a blow to all of those committed to reversing climate change. As the government’s former chief scientist David King tells the Times (£), “It would be a big surprise if Germany can achieve the same targets as Britain for decarbonising its energy supply without nuclear.”

Germany isn’t large enough to have a significant impact on the world’s climate; rather, the risk is of a domino effect in which other countries follow Merkel’s lead. The SNP’s energy minister, Fergus Ewing, said the move was the same “route that Scotland wishes to go down”. A week ago, Switzerland announced that it would phase out nuclear power by 2036.

As the graphic below shows, nuclear power is now an established part of the energy mix in most developed countries. It would be impossible to abandon nuclear power without a catastrophic increase in carbon emissions, as Mark Lynas warned in the New Statesman earlier this year.

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In Britain, the backlash against atomic energy has been fairly mild, though it’s notable that 55 MPs (including Zac Goldsmith, Ming Campbell, Charles Kennedy, Tim Farron and Jo Swinson) have now signed an early-day motion calling on the government to “suspend plans” for a new nuclear programme. In addition, a recent YouGov poll found that more of the public oppose nuclear power (48 per cent) than support it (40 per cent).

The coalition has pledged to build eight new nuclear power stations by 2025 with the proviso that there is no public subsidy. However, as the energy and climate change select committee noted earlier this month, the government is planning to provide investors with long-term contracts and guaranteed prices – a subsidy in all but name.

Chris Huhne remains sceptical of nuclear power, but nonetheless reaffirmed the government’s commitment to it following the post-Fukushima safety review. All the same, we can expect many in his party to urge Britain to follow Germany’s example in the weeks ahead.

The 55 anti-nuclear MPs

Beith, Alan: Liberal Democrats
Benton, Joe: Labour Party
Brake, Tom: Liberal Democrats
Brooke, Annette: Liberal Democrats
Burt, Lorely: Liberal Democrats
Campbell, Menzies: Liberal Democrats
Caton, Martin: Labour Party
Chapman, Jenny: Labour Party
Corbyn, Jeremy: Labour Party
Crockart, Mike: Liberal Democrats
Dakin, Nic: Labour Party
Durkan, Mark: Social Democratic and Labour Party
Edwards, Jonathan: Plaid Cymru
Engel, Natascha: Labour Party
Esterson, Bill: Labour Party
Farron, Tim: Liberal Democrats
Flynn, Paul: Labour Party
George, Andrew: Liberal Democrats
Gilbert, Stephen: Liberal Democrats
Goldsmith, Zac: Conservative Party
Hancock, Mike: Liberal Democrats
Havard, Dai: Labour Party
Hopkins, Kelvin: Labour Party
Horwood, Martin: Liberal Democrats
James, Sian C: Labour Party
Kaufman, Gerald: Labour Party
Kennedy, Charles: Liberal Democrats
Leech, John: Liberal Democrats
Lloyd, Stephen: Liberal Democrats
Lucas, Caroline Green Party
McDonnell, Alasdair: Social Democratic and Labour Party
McDonnell, John: Labour Party
Meacher, Michael: Labour Party
Meale, Alan: Labour Party
Mearns, Ian: Labour Party
Munt, Tessa: Liberal Democrats
Qureshi, Yasmin: Labour Party
Ritchie, Margaret: Social Democratic and Labour Party
Robertson, Angus: Scottish National Party
Rogerson, Dan: Liberal Democrats
Sanders, Adrian: Liberal Democrats
Shannon, Jim: Democratic Unionist Party
Singh, Marsha: Labour Party
Swinson, Jo: Liberal Democrats
Vaz, Valerie: Labour Party
Weatherley, Mike: Conservative Party
Weir, Mike: Scottish National Party
Whiteford, Eilidh: Scottish National Party
Whitehead, Alan: Labour Party
Williams, Hywel: Plaid Cymru
Williams, Mark: Liberal Democrats
Willott, Jenny: Liberal Democrats
Wishart, Pet: Scottish National
Wood, Mike: Labour Party
Wright, Simon: Liberal Democrats