Secret nuclear talks held at No 10

Ministers kept no record – and tried to hide details – of Brown adviser's meetings with energy chiefs. Brown's special adviser met energy chiefs off the record, before new power plants were announced

Sunday 13 January 2008 01:00
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By Andy Rowell and Richard Cookson

The Government held at least nine secret meetings at Downing Street with the bosses of nuclear energy companies while it formulated controversial plans for a new generation of the power plants, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

No official records were kept of the discussions with the companies, which stand to profit from Gordon Brown's announcement last Thursday that he was approving a new generation of nuclear power plants.

The Government initially tried to block details of the meetings requested under the Freedom of Information Act. However, last week it revealed that Geoffrey Norris, Gordon Brown's energy adviser, met bosses from EDF, British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), E.ON and British Energy at a crucial phase in the Government's deliberations.

Confirmation that there are no official records of the meetings adds to concern that certain advisers can operate outside the rules of government accountability.

Between September 2005 and June 2006 Mr Norris secretly met with Bill Coley, the chief executive of British Energy, and its chairman, Adrian Montague, who was knighted during that period. Last week Mr Coley announced: "British Energy is already taking steps to ensure the company is well positioned to be at the heart of the new build programme."

Between February and October 2006, Mr Norris met on three occasions with the EDF UK chief executive, Vincent de Rivaz, and Pierre Gadonneix, the chairman. Mr Brown's brother, Andrew, is EDF's head of media relations. Mr de Rivaz said last week: "After a thorough consultation, we welcome the Government's positive decision on new nuclear."

Mr Norris also met John Ritch from the World Nuclear Association, the industry's lobby group.

The meetings took place during the Government's first public consultation on a new nuclear programme. However, that consultation was criticised by the High Court last year as "flawed" and "inadequate" after a challenge by Greenpeace. Ben Ayliffe, a Greenpeace spokesman, said: "This just shows the extraordinary level of collusion between the Government and the nuclear industry."

A BNFL spokesman said: "BNFL has no commercial interest in new nuclear build." An E.ON spokesman said: "E.ON meets with the Government all the time and no one would remember what was said at any such meeting." None of the other companies involved had commented by the time we went to press.

Additional reporting by George Arbuthnott

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