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Going nuclear

Betsan Powys | 12:42 UK time, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

_1136305_wylfa300.jpgOn or near the top of the list at this morning's Welsh Assembly Government lobby briefing would have been a question about yesterday's UK Government announcement on the next generation of nuclear power stations.

Near the top too would have been a question or two about Carwyn Jones, the Counsel General's views on the future direction of public services in Wales and the response of the Finance Minister and the Health Minister to those views.

In the event, there was little point raising either issue. There was no government minister there to take our questions. A first - out of fairness, let me make that much clear. The Chief Medical Officer, who did step up to the mark, was informative about swine flu ("the WAG has followed a pathway that we are proud of") but not in a position to give the goverment's response to much of anything else. Why would he? He's the CMO stupid.

So why was he standing in for a government minister?

Was there a particular minister who wanted to avoid the lobby this week? Or was there a cabinet hair-washing session happening upstairs?

Let's hope this first is also a last.

So back to nuclear, specifically a new nuclear power station on Anglesey - Wylfa B. We know where this First Minister and his government stand on nuclear power in Wales. Rhodri Morgan was interviewed yesterday and re-iterated the official government line: "We remain of the view that the high level of interest in exploiting the huge potential for renewable energy obviates the need for new nuclear in Wales".

"Obviates". That's clear enough. We don't believe it's needed. We don't want it.

The Assembly Government doesn't get to make the decision but wants public hearings before any new nuclear build on the Wylfa site.

The Assembly Government is concerned about waste: "it remains our intention to protect people in Wales in terms of hazardous waste".

The Plaid Deputy First Minister does want Wylfa B of course but only when he's wearing his hat as the local Assembly Member. His government is opposed to it. His party is opposed to it but the Anglesey AM is pleased that "the UK government has stated its position in terms of nuclear energy".

So what about the three would-be First Ministers? My colleague Iolo ap Dafydd, the Environment Correspondent, was bang on with his timing yesterday when he considered the candidates' view on energy and environmental matters.

Let's hone in on the one candidate whose views are, we know already, in contradiction to the current government policy.

A few weeks ago Carwyn Jones said was it was "time to get real on climate change". A robust start. He went on. "I believe nuclear power will form part of Wales' low carbon response to the serious challenges we face in the years to come. "

Will form.

His views are perfectly clear and in contradiction to the current First Minister and the current Welsh Assembly Government. He supports nuclear as part of the Welsh energy mix as long as the waste question is dealt with.

So a straightforward question then: if Carwyn Jones is elected Labour leader on December 1st and becomes First Minister on December 8th, what will the Welsh government's policy on nuclear energy be by December 9th?

A finger is decisively pointed at the paragraph above: " .. nuclear power will form part of Wales' low carbon response to the serious challenges we face in the years to come". How it's implemented, how it's articulated? That'll be up to the government - which is a coalition after all - to work out.

"Can't see the Deputy First Minister complaining too loudly though, can you?" asks one who clearly has it all worked out.

But just hang on. Let's hone in another of the leadership candidates - Edwina Hart. In her manifesto she states that as "to sources of energy, I have always taken the view that, where nuclear power is concerned, only the highest degree of scepticism is sensible. We must never forget that the safety issues which come with nuclear power are not simply ones for the present generation but for the future".

Does that sound like she supports Wylfa B? No, it doesn't. But she does. She does as long as the waste question is solved and is rather more sceptical that can be done than her fellow leadership candidate, Carwyn Jones. But Edwina Hart supports Wylfa B.

And Huw Lewis? He too supports Wylfa B. It's a community that's used to nuclear goes the argument. It's a community desperate for jobs. It's a distinct case.

So there's the hat-trick. All three candidates on the record as supporting Wylfa B, unlike Rhodri Morgan.

The leader of the opposition has clearly worked out that here may be an Achilles' heel for the Assembly Government. Nick Bourne went big on the nuclear issue at FMQs. Where does the government stand on Wylfa B, he asked repeatedly?

Rhodri Morgan's response - "There was a lengthy discussion in Cabinet yesterday, and there has been no development of our policy."

That discussion was chaired of course, by a First Minister who is against new nuclear in Wales. Naturally no "development" of the policy, no going on the record in favour of Wylfa B.

But what would be the outcome of the same discussion in January next year chaired by a First Minister who IS on record as being in favour of Wylfa B?

Would collective cabinet responsibility mean that someone like current Environment Minister Jane Davidson, a leading supporter of Carwyn Jones as it happens, would be expected to go in front of the cameras and make a vigorous argument in favour of Wylfa B? And would she?


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