Please, Mr Chancellor, why don't you . . .: Nuclear Power: Find the energy to go private

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The Independent Online
THE Chancellor's message should be simple and in two parts: first, taxpayers will no longer bankroll the nuclear industry in any way, shape or form. Second, the industry must deposit enough hard cash with the Government to cover the full costs of dealing with its waste and decommissioning. What would be the implications?

With the taxpayer out of the picture, the Whitehall nightmare of Thorp would be somewhat simplified. Unless a buyer could be found for the beleaguered but allegedly profitable Sellafield plant, the Government would have to conclude that its economic case was rigged to leave taxpayers carrying the long-term costs. If Thorp is not good enough for the private sector, why should the taxpayer fund it?

The 1994 nuclear review would be conducted with new clarity. The money for Nuclear Electric's hoped-for Sizewell C power station would have to be raised from canny private investors on terms reflecting the peculiar risk of building, operating, and decommissioning nuclear power stations, while acquiring a growing stockpile of nuclear waste. We would then know the true price of nuclear power. The Nuclear Review would have to decide if this was a price worth making consumers pay.

Consumers would get a better deal on the money they have already unwillingly paid to the nuclear industry. The pounds 9bn subsidy paid by electricity consumers would be used for its intended purpose of dealing with nuclear waste and decommissioning. Money would be deposited in a Government 'decommissioning fund', rather than spent on building more nuclear power stations.

By 1998 the decommissioning fund would contain at least pounds 5bn, earmarked for eventual nuclear waste and decommissioning expenditure. However, until the money was needed, the Government could borrow from the fund to invest in saving energy in the homes of those most affected by the imposition of VAT on fuel. This would limit long-term VAT compensation payments and have the happy side-effect of reducing demand for nuclear power.

Clive Bates, a nuclear and energy campaigner for Greenpeace.