Action stations

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For what now seems like the 150th time, the government has nailed the UK’s colours to the mast of nuclear energy.

Today’s statement on the Energy Review may talk about a further consultation period, but in reality the decision has been made. A new generation of nuclear power stations will be built in the UK, providing the backbone of the nation’s energy supply for the foreseeable future.

The remaining, mercifully brief period of consultation will be more of a final nod to the concerns of the anti-nuclear lobby, but the outcome will surely be the same.

It’s a sign of the urgency of this issue that industry secretary Alistair Darling stressed the need for a final green light by the end of the year.

Darling, and the rest of the government, have seen the figures, and are under no illusions concerning the consequences of an undue delay.

Indeed, Tony Blair – now free from the need to beat around the bush – was uncharacteristically blunt at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions when challenged over his new-found evangelism for nuclear energy.

He said, in summary, that renewable sources of energy simply won’t plug the gap left by the existing nuclear plants, and the dwindling supplies of oil and gas from the North Sea, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves.

And he’s right. The idea that a nation as populous and power hungry as the UK can sustain itself on renewables alone just doesn’t stack up.

We could, of course, bridge the gap by importing gas from abroad. But as ministers have recognised, security of supply is as much of an issue as source of supply. To depend on the benevolence of a particular region of nation is, in some ways, to surrender a chunk of sovereignty.

So let’s put this argument to bed and get on with addressing the big issues that arise once it’s safely tucked up. Which specific technologies and designs will be employed? How will the nuclear new-build be funded? How will we deal with the waste generated? There’s no more time for talk.

Andrew Lee