Economy

It’s taken an energy crisis for political elites to wake up to nuclear

Although Tony Blair had belatedly become a nuclear enthusiast, his successor Gordon Brown handed the implementation to Ed Miliband, and the EU’s strategy gave the new energy secretary all the cover he needed to usher in an era of energy austerity. For example, personal energy rationing, unthinkable only a few years previously, was now on the agenda. Not surprisingly, reliable electricity generation was kicked to the curb.

Unfortunately, another lever could now be activated to halt the mighty atom, and this had been put in place by the market liberalisations of Margaret Thatcher’s government. The vast upfront costs to building a new reactor posed a problem that the 1980s energy market made much more difficult.

The state no longer wanted to fund new nuclear plants, leaving only a tiny handful of private players willing to participate. However, while the old vertically integrated energy utilities could recoup the vast construction costs long before the plants were completed by charging a small surcharge on our bills, they were now forbidden from doing so. The private operator thus faced a decade or more of interest payments with no operating income to offset it.

These financing difficulties led to Hitachi and Toshiba cancelling their nuclear projects here recently, and the anomaly was only rectified this year with Kwasi Kwarteng’s Regulated Asset Base legislation, which should slash around 20pc off the cost of building large nuclear power stations. 

In David Cameron’s coalition, Liberal Democrats who had opposed nuclear energy all their lives grabbed this vital strategic brief. You could guess what happened next. Those ministers could say they supported nuclear energy while ensuring it wouldn’t happen. Of the seven new reactors Labour planned, only two are being built today.

A final obstacle to our nuclear future still needs to be cleared. That’s our politicised green establishment, using lawfare and ideologically aligned quangos and activists to stop anything being built. 

For example, in 2021, the Planning Inspectorate revealed that it would have objected to the proposed Horizon project at Wylfa – one of the two eventually cancelled because of financing – over fears that colonies of Arctic and Sandwich terns might “abandon Cemlyn Bay”.  

A government that’s truly serious about energy must remind courts they may only interpret, and not create, law. It must create a statutory obligation to consider the needs of energy consumers and industry above all else.  

Sky-high electricity bills are a catastrophe, but not the only consequence of successive governments’ political negligence. MPs like Virginia Crosbie in Anglesey, who heads the Nuclear Delivery Group, and Ian Liddell-Grainger at Bridgwater represent thriving communities, where high quality technical training, paid for by the industry, and apprenticeships lead to the creation of thousands of well-paid, skilled jobs.

Nuclear power should have been the centrepiece of Mr Johnson’s levelling-up strategy, seen in every part of the country, and not an afterthought to toy with as he ambles towards the exit. It still might be, if Liz Truss seizes the opportunity.

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