In a political compromise between the two coalition parties, Chris Huhne, Energy Secretary, has approved plans for eight new nuclear power stations to be built in England and Wales by 2025. The sites for the power stations have been restricted to England and Wales only as the Scottish government has stated that it is opposed to new nuclear expansion. The move has been seen by Lib Dem critics as a u-turn on nuclear policy, as Chris Huhne was previously against nuclear expansion due to radioactive waste disposal issues.
The new locations are (from north to south): Hartlepool; Sellafield, Cumbria; Heysham, Lancashire; Wylfa, Isle of Anglesey; Sizewell, Suffolk; Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex; Oldbury, Gloucestershire and Hinkley Point in Somerset.
The coalition also announced that it was dropping plans for a large tidal energy scheme across the Severn estuary due to the government’s refusal to publicly finance the £21bn project and expecting to find private investment ‘challenging’.
Environmental analysts have said that the nuclear site projects may still not go ahead as they are still subject to planning permission and Chris Huhne has pledged that there will be no public subsidies. However, it is expected that there will be upcoming debates on the definition of what a ‘public subsidy’ actually is.
The nuclear debate is a political hot potato within the coalition as Conservative members are in favour of a new generation of nuclear plants, whilst the Lib Dems have traditionally opposed such a view.
Huhne said: “I’m fed up with the stand-off between advocates of renewables and of nuclear energy which means we have neither. We urgently need investment in new and diverse energy sources to power the UK. We’ll need renewables, new nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage and the cables to hook them all up to the [National] Grid as a large slice of our current generating capacity shuts down.”
In a revised draft national policy statement on energy published by the coalition today, it was shown that by 2025, half of the new energy capacity in the UK is expected to come from renewable sources such as wind.
In a related event, Huhne yesterday won £1bn in funding for carbon capture technology; a system that can cut CO2 emissions by up to 90%. This suggests that despite the Lib Dem MP being compelled to do an about-face on nuclear energy policy, he might still view alternative, renewable energy sources as the principal way forward in averting the predicted energy crisis the UK faces in the middle of the next decade, when current UK power stations are expected to reach the end of their lives. It is also a supporting move for the 2008 UK Climate Change Act, that sets a legally binding target for reducing UK CO2 emissions by at least 26% by 2020.