Leading article: An old campaign takes on a new life

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The Independent Online

As policy U-turns go, last week's Government Energy Review was at the more brazen end of the spectrum. Just three years after virtually ruling out a new generation of nuclear power stations in a White Paper, these generators were given the official go-ahead. The Prime Minister was candid about the reason for the reversal, telling the House of Commons Liaison Committee a week before the review was published: "I've changed my mind." That may well be true, but we wonder how much thought Mr Blair has given to the consequences of this decision.

There is, of course, the question of how the nuclear waste produced by these power stations (which, we should remember, remains radioactive for thousands of years) will be dealt with. The Energy White Paper had nothing to say about the technicalities of how this waste will be disposed of, or the Government's involvement in the process. But there is also the significant question of popular opposition to Mr Blair's nuclear plans.

As we report today, the old Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been given a boost since last week's announcement. Membership has seen a 300 per cent increase since it became clear that a new generation of power stations was likely to be given the go-ahead. The organisation has also been given a fillip by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's hint last month in his Mansion House speech that under a Gordon Brown premiership there would be an upgrade of the Trident nuclear weapons system.

CND's national council met yesterday to discuss how to update the 48-year-old campaign for the 21st century. There is to be a 50 per cent increase in staffing levels and the organisation's campaigning budget. All the evidence suggests there is fertile ground for a new push by CND. A Mori poll in January showed that while 54 per cent of people would accept new nuclear power stations if they helped fight climate change, 78 per cent thought renewable technologies and energy efficiency were better ways of tackling global warming.

The public is entitled to ask why the Government has not put more effort into these areas. The decision to go nuclear certainly seems to have been decided with unseemly haste. And all the signs are that Mr Brown made his own nuclear announcement primarily for political reasons. But his career and the national interest do not necessarily amount to the same thing.

Mr Blair, before his change of heart, once asked a very good rhetorical question regarding new nuclear power stations: "Would you want one in your constituency?" We suspect a resurgent CND will provide a very clear and concise answer to that question.