David Prosser: Money will decide new nuclear's fate in UK

Friday 18 March 2011 01:00

Outlook Despite the catastrophe in Japan, Greenpeace seems unlikely to get its way after calling yesterday for Britain's process of approving new nuclear stations to be suspended. But a full-scale moratorium – effectively what Greenpeace wants – is not necessary to derail the nuclear element of Britain's energy policy.

At a rough estimate, privatesector companies are being asked to find £50bn to invest in new nuclear plants over the next decade in the UK. They do so not out of the goodness of their hearts but because they expect to make a return on that money. If they judge the return less likely to be delivered, they are less likely to make the investments in the first place.

Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, has put his anti-nuclear past behind him but has only been able to persuade fellow Liberal Democrats to do the same by pledging that there will be no public subsidy for new nuclear. There is already a row over whether Mr Huhne has breached that commitment with his plan for a carbon price floor and minimum prices for electricity generated from non-carbon fuel sources. Renewables and nuclear alike will both benefit from public money under the Energy Secretary's proposals.

What has happened in Japan will naturally strength the resolve of those who oppose Britain's plans for another generation of nuclear power plants. You can expect that opposition to coalesce now around the energy market reforms Mr Huhne is proposing in order to make those plans possible.

It may not take much to tip the the nuclear debate. Spooked by the way European governments have competed to respond to the Japan crisis by suspending their nuclear programmes, those companies which had been tempted to invest in Britain's new nuclear will need reassurance, not a diminution of incentives.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments