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Changing the subject (part 2)

Nick Robinson | 16:54 UK time, Tuesday, 16 May 2006

He's tried picking an argument with animal rights protesters. He's tried picking one with himself on human rights. Tonight Tony Blair will take on the anti-nuclear crowd by declaring that "the replacement of nuclear power stations is... back on the agenda with a vengeance".

It's no surprise that Tony Blair backs nuclear even though he's always claimed to have an open mind. His comments at tonight's CBI dinner are though the furthest he's gone in public and come after he's read the Government's draft energy review.

He'll get a fight alright - all previous attempts to go nuclear have provoked a grassroots backlash. Politically, it plays into the battle over who is the greenest of them all.

Tony Blair presents it as part - along with renewable energy and energy efficiency - of tackling climate change. The Lib Dems see opposition to nuclear power as an ideal way to prove they're really green. What will be fascinating is to see how the Tories react. You might think they'd be all in favour but David Cameron's green guru - Zak Goldsmith - is opposed and his Trade & Industry Spokesman, Alan Duncan, is sceptical and wants answers on cost and waste disposal. If they back nuclear power they may alienate green groups. If they don't, Labour will use it as evidence that they're all talk on dealing with climate change.

Curiously, new nuclear power stations may not need legislation so there may be no direct vote in the Commons on this. There may have to be votes, however, on changing planning regulations.


This issue will be a real test; does the public require a fully worked out alternative to support opposition, or can the Conservatives keep the heat on Labour whilst not actually cooking with gas?

  • 2.
  • At 05:33 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Chris Rijk wrote:

Nuclear power is one of those "sounds good in theory" things. A lot of the costs are hidden - like, the government generally has to provide insurance and other services. It's not the sort of thing the financial community is happy to finance (even with a bargain set of peerages to hand out). Nuclear power plants are generally pretty safe, but it certainly is a constant headache to deal with - particularly sabotage. It would also be nice to give countries like Iran less of an excuse to be able to build nuclear power plants. And finally, in the UK's case, it's generally reckoned that the existing plants will have to be shut down well before new ones could be built - and nobody wants to build a short term power station to fill the gap.

That's a lot of negatives and few positives. There doesn't seem to be a rational argument for nuclear power.

It would be nice to see some new thinking on electricity generation. Not everything has to be as devisive as nuclear power. For example, minimalising the standby power on electrical goods. Giving significant financial benefits to good innovators on improving efficiency - in both consumer and industrial products. Eg, LED lighting. (Just setting minimum standards isn't good enough) Heck, do an "X Prize" series of awards for more critical product groups. It would also be interesting to have labelling on products like "in typical usage this product would consume X KW per year which would cost Y at current prices". That would help consumers make better choices, and encourage innovation. Since so much power is lost in transmission, it would also be interesting to see more research on that, and also, local power generation.

  • 3.
  • At 05:36 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Jason Linsdell wrote:

I feel nuclear power is ESSENTIAL until we have developed renewable energy sources that can account for a very large %age of our energy needs. People worry about the case of a disaster, why not stick them all in a remote corner in Scotland away from vast population! Of course nuclear waste is another problem.

Furthermore, global warming is helped by lower carbon emissions from nuclear power. However, I read on the bbc yesterday that 100s of nuclear tests during the arms race were carried out all over the world. Has anyone studied the effects that exploding nuclear bombs has on global warming? e.g. it states here that the USSR carred out over 700 nuclear tests!

  • 4.
  • At 05:44 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Simon wrote:

For the future viability of this planet, I hope this is a fight that Tony Blair loses.

Surely the recent publicity marking the anniversary of Chernobyl is enough to warn everyone away from building Nuclear Power Plants?

The only real answer is in micro-generation projects and research into fuel produced from sustainable sources.

By developing the technologies that make these work, Britain will ensure long term economic success.

Hi Nick,

It's a real shame this issue has gone all party political.
We really need some common sense and long term planning, indeed it needs a road map of several decades and a fair few parliments too.

I just hope that we at least get consensus on achieving a target (in the distant future sadly) of 100% of our energy from renewable sources.

I'd also hope that some common sense is applied. Remove VAT from energy efficient lightbulbs and increase tax on traditional bulbs. Put in place regulation to force white goods to continue to improve their efficiency.

These and many other small changes could make a large difference.

I fear that in the medium term Nuclear will be needed, but my fears are purely cost related I'm confident that new UK plants would be run safely.

  • 6.
  • At 07:42 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Russell Long wrote:

It seems to be the opinion of Labour that for every problem, government is the solution. What's wrong with facilitating microgeneration? Why not get away from the need for government involvement in everything?


I don't want to shock you or scare you and I promise this isn't a 3rd party posting under my name but for once I agree with our outgoing Prime Minister.

With much of the worlds oil and gas production taking place in, or travelling through, high unstable regions of the world we need to take a pragmatic approach to ensuring the security of the country and our energy supplies.

Whilst it may be possible for renewables to play some part in this my layman understanding is that they can't generate all we need. On that basis alone I fail to see how we could not look to nuclear.

I recall an edition of The Daily Politics last summer where the team spoke not to pressure groups of either side but a community who work and live in the shadow of a nuclear power station. Away from all the hysteria and hype these people were confident of their safety.

Where I can't resist pointing out a failure on Blair's part is that he's had 9 years and until last year a far larger majority with which to address this vital issue which he's rather oddly left until the final hours of his politcal career.

  • 8.
  • At 08:17 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • George wrote:

Tony making a decision about something that we really need to get right rather than just 'spinning' a story, I may need to go and lie down!

Nuclear power is one of those tough questions that requires debate, informed debate, not just hysteria from the so called 'Green Lobby'. Personally I'm in favour of a mixed generation capacity that includes renewables, fossil fuels etc. On top of that we all need to conserve energy, use the most efficient plant and machinery and think before we drive or take a trip on a plane.

  • 9.
  • At 08:21 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Russell wrote:

Did nick robinson actually say "poo-pooed" on the today program on Tuesday!?!?

  • 10.
  • At 08:36 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Chuck Unsworth wrote:

Nuclear power eh? Well that will reduce the CO2 emissions dramatically, won't it? Of course there may be other emissions to worry about. Anyone who has walked around one of our older decommissioned nuclear stations will be pretty sobered by the experience.

Apart from that what are Tony and his crew going to do about the escalating demand for energy? There's a great deal which could be done, not all of it using new technology. In many countries now 'Peak Energy' is a summer problem, what with the fantastic growth in air-conditioning world wide. And there are perfectly viable alternatives which would make 80% savings in energy consumption and which are being ignored in the headlong rush towards new technology - itself a wasteful process.

Some American states are in severe danger of being unable to meet summer demand, with the resultant black or brown-outs. Remember New York and the scenes of massed people walking home across the Brooklyn Bridge etc?

Climate change is doing it here as well. Summer demand will soon outstrip winter demand. Then we'll all have to move North to Alaska or Greenland to keep cool - assuming they haven't melted, of course.

  • 11.
  • At 08:48 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

The interesting thing is not that nuclear power is 'back on the agenda', unless there is a radical rethink on how we and the world use energy it has to be, the real inteesting thing will be David C's response! Guess we will not get one for a few hours, he will need time to find out what he should think and time to constuct his views so they sound good to the press but don't give too much away that could be confused with policy. A very undisirable situation given this can lead to all sorts of difficulty like having to understant the issues and offer considered alternatives, surely not the role of the opposition leader.

  • 12.
  • At 09:27 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Kit wrote:

TB tried to slip this into his monthly press get-together last week and I thought it then a blatant attempt to change the topic of conversation from his departure date, the failings of his government and ministers and the allegations of peerages for rent.

Seems all he had to do was wait for a lull in the storm...

However, by raising such a divisive issue in the same week he also raises animal testing, has he revealed a not very subtle strategy to try and wrestle control of the news agenda back from the hands of journalists? ... or am I getting too cynical? Must be from reading this blog too often :)

  • 13.
  • At 10:55 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • Ted Greenhalgh wrote:

One thing that is self evident is if there is any truth in the dire scenario that we are constantly being reminded of, then we have to cut down on the amount of carbon that is converted to carbon dioxide. I have never really understood the logic behind the "dash for gas". These power stations still pour out tons of carbon dioxide.

First we have to do something now. The only thing that we could do at once is to impose savage speed restrictions on cars and ban programs on the BBC that glorify speed and high powered cars.

In the medium term we should do all the things suggested by Chris Rijk.

Part of the future is nuclear. There are safer nuclear reactors on the drawing board.

There is an obsession with cost. If the alternative is the destruction of the planet then cost has little relevance.

  • 14.
  • At 11:03 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • kim wrote:

I don't see any way that a decision on nuclear power can be made without debate...since that was clearly promised and this is such an emotive issue.

Whether the debate is "informed" or not is the worry. I can't make head or tail of the claims and counter claims, and I'm not that thick.


I've no objection to TB taking sides and proposing his solution, that's his job. Let's see the debate.

Since a big argument in favour of nuclear power is energy security, I'd like to see the other efforts also being made in this direction.

Diversity and security of supply, reserves of basic product and redundancy of manufacture.

Without which, I might be sceptical.


  • 15.
  • At 11:27 PM on 16 May 2006,
  • James wrote:

Nuclear is a perfectly good solution to our energy security needs (which I believe must take a must higher priority than 'climate change' which we can do little/nothing about)

however, the waste disposal problems do not go away, even if the uk builds a underground depository there is still the issue of leakage etc. man has never Engineered something to last 100,000 years, our current best efforts in the longitivity stakes are the pyramids.

i believe that the UK should put much more money and resources into developing tidal stream and tidal barrage power.

engergy security will be a huge issue for the next 100 years, the sooner we seriously consider it and the dangers of being at a whim to Russia turning off the taps... the better.

  • 16.
  • At 12:06 AM on 17 May 2006,
  • Jake Long wrote:

1 Announce that you intend to introduce road tolls, this will anger at least 98% of the country and give them something to think about

2 Announce that you intend to build nuclear power stations. This will grab the attention of and anger, all those who are not angered by and in fact are pushing for, road user charging.

3 Announce that you are going to further limit civil liberties (Quite how it is possible to limit them any more, I am not sure)

There you go a 3 point plan to divert public attention from your problems.

  • 17.
  • At 01:06 AM on 17 May 2006,
  • Richard O'shea wrote:

The planning issue is the one that will highlight Blair's allegiances. Expect to see a new host of legislation making it easy peasy for new power stations to be put up just about anywhere they please. Expect that legislation to also severley limit the rights of protesters to air their grievances. Expect the use of the term planning process to become a joke and public consultation to become public education. I'm pro Nuclear as long as the waste isn't stored on mainland UK, but to see the 'Prime Minister' act in such a partisan way is pretty discusting even for one so dissilusioned as I.

No comment on the timing of this to knock the continiuing police investigation into high-level corruption out of the headlines? I would have expected some analysis on evening news programs of the latest developments - do I smell govt. lawyers? D-notices? Or is deference, inertia and a self-fulfilling belief in Blair's wriggling ability fuelling disbelief amongst the media?

  • 19.
  • At 04:10 AM on 17 May 2006,
  • Ryan wrote:

I very much hope the prime minister gives this considerable thought. I am a supporter of nuclear power, but many of my fellow scots are not. I just hope that westminster actually talks to holyrood in regards to this. That last thing scotland needs is to have a power stuggle with westminster wanting to build new reactors in scotland and holyrood blocking the plans in regards to planning laws. In that respect, the only thing blair could do would be to try and remove the land planning powers from holyrood. I couldnt think of a greater gift to the SNP and we all know the mess that would undoubtably cause.

  • 20.
  • At 08:46 AM on 17 May 2006,
  • Cliff wrote:

I think that Tony totally underestimates the amount of people in the country who have a good knowledge of green issues. People are fully aware of how lax our energy efficiency measures are. We all know that TVs on standby waste tons of power, and that most domestic appliances are wasteful. The average kettle sounds like an aircraft taking off, and all that steam and noise is wasted energy. We use drinking water to flush toilets with, heat our shops with the doors open and light our motorways at 2am when nobody is on them.
Until the govt has done everything it can to encourage TRUE energy efficiency, the people will never support nuclear power. Why can I still buy a 'D' or @E' rated domestic appliance? why is the norm to buy old style inefficient light bulbs? Nobody on earth would oppose legal moves to change both these situations, and their effect on energy sue would be significant.
Even those who mumble about nuclear being the 'sensible choice' will change their mind when the bulldozers start building one near them, and hosue prices tumble towards the floor. Nuclear power is the wrong chocie for so many reasons, and its a step too far for Blair.

  • 21.
  • At 10:16 AM on 17 May 2006,
  • Ryan Stephenson wrote:

As an engineer I find the PMs comments hard to swallow. His primary concern seems to be guarantee of supply. However, all our uranium has to be imported, mostly from pretty unstable countries. Uranium is a pretty rare element and there is not a limitless supply. If all developed countries were to "go nuclear" the supply of uranium would not meet demand, prices would go up and supply would dry up pretty quickly. Furthermore, as the Sizewell B development should show, building nuclear power stations takes time. It is a highly skilled business and the building of each reactor is likely to be proceeded with a public equiry. Mass producing wind-turbines in China for use in the UK seems like a much more viable option, and if the choice is between planning permission for a wind farm or a reactor on my doorstep I know which one I would be happiest about.

  • 22.
  • At 10:35 AM on 17 May 2006,
  • Nick wrote:

Jason wrote: stick it in a remote corner of scotland away from the vast population. Hello ever heard of Dounreay..........Clinging to cliff face in noth east count of Caithness. I am third generation of 'nuclear' employee @ this plant and proud of the fact - albeit I am currently decommissioning the work and efforts that my grandfather and father spent their life time building. Nuclear industry is essential for the energy survival of this country

  • 23.
  • At 10:43 AM on 17 May 2006,
  • Chris Rijk wrote:

Jason Linsdell wrote "I feel nuclear power is ESSENTIAL until we have developed renewable energy sources that can account for a very large %age of our energy needs."

It'll be about 15 years (I think) for new nuclear power plants to be built and start providing electricity to the national grid. It'd also require billions of public money to make it happen. Imagine if that was invested in renewable energy sources instead. Not only would it likely benefit us all sooner, but it wouldn't have the risks of nuclear power stations.

I agree with many of the comments here that informed debate is essential. The institute of Physics has started a blog that hopes to provide a space for just that

  • 25.
  • At 01:27 PM on 17 May 2006,
  • Martyn wrote:

By going aganist nuclear power Tories could also demonstrate they are competent economically, and forward thinking technologically.

I don't deny that the argument about whether carbon dioxide emissions or nuclear waste are the most dangerous is not easy. But it is not the relevant argument - the real point is that the billions it will cost to build nuclear power stations can deliver greater cuts in carbon dioxide if invested in efficiency and renewables is clear.

  • 26.
  • At 02:19 PM on 17 May 2006,
  • Oliver Humpage wrote:

The kinf od mind that thinks nuclear energy is the way forward is the same kind of mind which thinks PFI is a great idea: despite both having some short-term gain, unfortunately both will come back to bite us in a few decades.

I know politicians are only elected for a few years at a time, but I'm very disappointed at how short-sighted so many MPs are being.

  • 27.
  • At 02:22 PM on 17 May 2006,
  • Ryan Stephenson wrote:

I loved this comment from Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth posted in the Guardian today:

"If the prime minister is looking for a lasting legacy, then perhaps there is none more durable than nuclear waste. Which leader from history can say that people some 100,000 years after he was gone still lived in fear of his rule?"

  • 28.
  • At 04:01 PM on 17 May 2006,
  • Scott, from Glasgow wrote:

From a Scottish perspective I find this interesting on several fronts.

Firstly, it seems that our own Scottish Parliament's governing executive has could veto new nuclear builds on planning grounds. Planning seems to be a Scots Parliament issues whilst Energy is a 'reserved' power of Westminster. Potential clash of ideas between Holyrood and Whitehall.

Secondly, if a decision is taken before the 2007 Scots Parly elections then it will test the governing coalition since the Lib Dems are opposed.

Thirdly, If they wait until after 2007 then the matter could become an election issue - in which case Lib Dems, SNP, Greens and Scottish Socialists stand to gain amongst the the anti-nuclear voter. I think the Scottish populace will swing behind alternative energy , afterall we have potential for off-shore sites and wind power. Maybe lacking in the solar power department though!


> Maybe lacking in the solar power department though!

Not at all. You don't need direct sunlight to produce solar power; just daylight.

Even if you did, parts of Scotland are the sunniest of the UK. The island of Tiree in the inner hebrides holds the UK record for most sun in the year.

Solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro, wave, tidal, offshore wind, onshore turbines on houses, micro and local generation - bring them all on.

  • 30.
  • At 11:42 AM on 18 May 2006,
  • Yeliu Chuzai wrote:

Nuclear energy is a good example of green lobby dishonesty. The new generation of nuclear plants would be cheaper and safer, and are needed.

It is ironic that the greens oppose any nuclear development, but never mention the four giant French stations along the Channel coast.

Disposal of waste is a big issue, but really a question of evaluating options.

One of these fine days, a viable replacement for the lead-acid battery will be developed.
So what will happen to the six million tonnes of lead around the world then ?
The "conserve the environment" answer might be to combine it with sulphur and bury it in the earth (that's where it came from), often in limestone terrains, sometimes in National Parks.

Can you imagine how the greens would react to that proposition ??

  • 31.
  • At 05:00 PM on 18 May 2006,
  • Ryan Stephenson wrote:

Of the 250million tonnes of oil equivalent energy consumed by the UK last year only a fifth was used for electricity. Given that the government target for nuclear is only 40% of electricity production that corresponds to less than 8% of total energy consumption for all these reactors. If nuclear is "needed" it isn't needed very much is it? A solution to our energy consumption and CO2 output that also considered how we heat our homes and power our trucks is required.

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