Britain is still paying for nuclear-generated electricity consumed a generation ago because of the hidden costs of an industry reared on the expectation of public subsidies, the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said yesterday.
He told the Royal Society in London that the nuclear industry and the Government should show that they have learned from their past mistakes if they are to retain public support for a renaissance in nuclear power. "And some of those mistakes are not small," he said in a keynote address. "Nuclear policy is a runner to be the most expensive failure of post-war British policy-making, and I am aware that this is a crowded and highly contested field."
Half of the budget of the Department for Energy and Climate Change goes on cleaning up Britain's legacy of nuclear waste, which includes the world's largest stockpile of civil plutonium waste, three Olympic-sized swimming pools of high-level waste, enough intermediate waste to fill a supertanker and even more low-level waste, he said. "That is £2bn a year, year in and year out, that we are continuing to pay for electricity that was consumed in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s on a false prospectus," he told the Society. "The nuclear industry was like an expense-account dinner: everybody ordering the most expensive items on the menu because someone else was paying the bill."
Despite £49bn in nuclear liabilities, Mr Huhne said that it was important to press ahead with a new fleet of nuclear power stations to meet the challenge of climate change.