David Blackburn

Keeping the lights on

Keeping the lights on
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It may have come ten years late, but Ed Miliband’s decision to bypass planning processes for nuclear plants is welcome. Britain faces unprecedented energy insecurity, with widespread power cuts predicted from 2017.

Rather than trust Vladimir Putin not to turn the top-off whenever he’s feeling piqued, or to rely on the totally unreliable Colonel Gadaffi, or import energy, the government will increase nuclear output to 25 percent of national production. To achieve this, government will act with almost dictatorial reach to circumvent local communities and their right to determine the scale and scope of local construction. Expense has long been an argument against nuclear power and each of the ten proposed reactors will cost £5bn. The government insist that suppliers will not receive a subsidy; but don’t bet against it: this programme cannot be inaugurated without central government, and where that beast goes handouts follow.

This project is likely to be managed by a Conservative government and it poses the Tories an ideological problem: the crushing of local democracy is anathema to Cameron’s thought. The Tories’ energy shadow, Greg Clark, suggests that these proposals be put to a parliamentary vote to confer ‘democratic legitimacy’ on them – an admirable desire but one that would waste time, a commodity in shorter supply than energy. If Britain is to avert a dangerous shortfall and plan for a cleaner energy future, the Tories must view a new generation of nuclear plants as an instance where the state can repair society.