Leading article: A nuclear misjudgement

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It would be churlish not to recognise that the Conservative Party under David Cameron has come a long way on energy policy. The interim report of the party's energy review this week argues that nuclear power should be used only as "a last resort". Of course, it would have been preferable if the Tories had ruled out nuclear power altogether. But this is still a significant shift for a party that has historically smiled on the nuclear industry.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party under Tony Blair has been moving just as fast in the opposite direction. The Prime Minister told the Commons Liaison Committee this week that he had "changed his mind" on nuclear power. All the signs are that next week's energy review will call for additional nuclear power stations to be built.

This is despite the fact the Labour Party has long been opposed to nuclear power; that a White Paper only three years ago was sceptical about building more plants; and that the Government's own watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, recently produced a report saying nuclear power was not the answer to tackling climate change or security of supply. The last-minute intervention today from the IPPR think-tank urging Mr Blair to eschew nuclear power will be ignored. A huge lobbying effort by the nuclear industry seems to have done its work.

Yet as the IPPR points out, four times more energy could be saved by using it more efficiently over the next two decades than could be generated by replacing all the UK's nuclear reactors over the same period. Nuclear investment will also crowd out funding for other approaches to filling the energy gap. It is here that a formidable front of opposition is forming to Mr Blair's "nuclear option". The Tories and Liberal Democrats are committing themselves to a national policy of "microgeneration" (small-scale wind turbines, solar panels and ground-source heat pumps) as an alternative. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has set a target of 7,000 solar panels and 500 small wind turbines to be built in the capital by the end of the decade.

By some estimates, small-scale energy generation could provide 30 to 40 per cent of the UK's electricity needs. Decentralised energy already provides 50 per cent of Denmark's supplies. And yet Mr Blair has shown no interest in this safe, proven and environmentally sound way forward. Expect more evidence of the Prime Minister's flawed judgement in the coming week.

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