Tony Blair has long been known to favour a resurgence of nuclear power, and no matter how the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks tries to spin it, that is exactly what this review is all about. Greenpeace clearly recognises it, which is why it wasted no time in staging a high-profile protest. The wind industry appears to have recognised it too. For all its attempts to show a brave face yesterday and urge the review to focus on renewables, the jitters were not hard to detect.
Tony Blair yesterday placed the energy crisis to the fore of the political agenda. But what took him so long? Neil Young looks at how warnings have gone unheeded – and the real issues have often been overlooked IT IS not as if it should have come as any surprise. For several years the Institution of Civil Engineers has been warning the Government in increasingly fraught terms of an impending energy crisis. Ministers have been told time and again that there is no guarantee that the lights will stay on in a severe winter. Conventional sources such as coal and nuclear were being scaled down and there was nothing that could take up the shortfall quickly enough.
This newspaper too has consistently reported that the calculations do not stack up. It should have been obvious. It was obvious to many people. But the Government’s response? To dither and distract at the very time when the long lead-up time to shoring up energy supplies needed addressing. It produced the 2003 Energy White Paper – a masterpiece of bureaucratic illogicality, unattainable and unrealistic targets. Its "magic bullet" has been to throw more windfarms at the problem.
Now, the Prime Minister appears to have gone into an overdrive of spin. The energy crisis is with us with a "vengeance", he opined yesterday. Effectively, he has torn up the 2003 White Paper, while trying to make it appear as if he deserves praise for acknowledging tough and inescapable realities.
Well, Mr Blair, that crisis did not begin yesterday – nor will it begin or end as or when the next day’s headlines suit.
This crisis, as it exists, is very much of the Government’s making. More so, it might be suspected that it is of the Government’s design. Has it been waiting for this moment, a predicted severe winter, to spring its secret?
Was this a case of softening up public opinion towards nuclear power by allowing the energy crisis to run away? Then, in the same breath, to admit that carbon emissions have not been coming down as desired or expected?
Tony Blair has long been known to favour a resurgence of nuclear power, and no matter how the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks tries to spin it, that is exactly what this review is all about.
Greenpeace clearly recognises it, which is why it wasted no time in staging a high-profile protest.
The wind industry appears to have recognised it too. For all its attempts to show a brave face yesterday and urge the review to focus on renewables, the jitters were not hard to detect.
Yet here is the bitter irony: that environmental campaigners may have inadvertently been working towards Mr Blair’s aims. Had this fixation with wind turbines not been allowed to take a grip on Government, had ministers not been lobbied so hard to grease the wheels with lucrative subsidies for developers and by skewing the decision-making process, had the science behind the White Paper not been so flaky – and had the Government just lived up to a few of its promises – we might not have arrived at such a pass.
Now, they are pitched against the nuclear industry. Now as well, a clear and sizeable political battle opens up between the leading campaigners of the "green" movement and those who champion nuclear power.
Where each side of this debate often confuses the issue is in the way they link energy use and carbon emissions.
It is fair to say that nuclear power will not necessarily lead to a reduction of greenhouse gases. Transport, communications and industry are the primary causes, and they are expanding.
But it is also disingenuous to argue that renewables, as the "big" alternatives, can plug the energy gap.
So, where does that leave us? Possibly, once again, about to become embroiled in a debate that is as deceptive as it is volatile.
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