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21 September 2010

Splitting the atom? Huhne and Hughes divided on nuclear

Is Chris Huhne "fed up" with his own party's manifesto pledge on energy?

By Patrick Osgood

A small observation from the speeches at today’s Liberal Democrat conference.

Simon Hughes gave a rousing speech, in which he was quite categorical in saying he will, with his party, use “all our influence in the coalition government” to stand up “in opposition to nuclear power”. This affirmation of the party’s position on nuclear fuel was greeted with cheers from a crowd in need of a little reassurance over their role within the coalition.

Chris Huhne, the Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, didn’t get the memo. In his speech, given a few hours later, he said:

”I’m fed up with the stand-off between renewable and nuclear which means we have neither – we will have both. We will have low-carbon energy, and security of supply.”

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Which seems to undermine Hughes’s tubthumping somewhat, and contradict the party’s manifesto pledge to:

“reject a new generation of power stations; based on the evidence nuclear power is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy”

So, which is it to be? The dichotomy between Hughes as the voice of the party and Huhne as the voice of government could not be clearer.

Given the fudged provision on nuclear in the coalition agreement, it is easy to see why many Liberal Democrats are queasy at conjoining with the Conservatives in such a way as to guarantee the reinvigoration of nuclear power, with only the meagre sop of being excused from collective responsibility on the issue to show for it.