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Many burning questions to answer on nuclear power
Aug 27 2007
by Martin Shipton, Western Mail
HEREVER you stand on the issue of nuclear power, Hugh Richards of the Welsh Anti Nuclear Alliance is right to raise financial concerns about the nuclear programme, which it is very likely that the UK Government will endorse.
Despite assurances that no public money will be involved in funding any future nuclear power stations, it is clear from evidence elsewhere in the world that such projects have a tendency to cost far more than original estimates. It is therefore understandable that questions will be raised about the financial viability of any future power station projects in Britain.
There are other points to be made about the current public consultation on whether new nuclear power stations should be built. We know Tony Blair was convinced that nuclear energy had a significant continuing part to play in Britainâ€™s energy mix. Gordon Brown has also signalled his support for such a view.
In these circumstances, it is almost unthinkable that the UK Government will rule nuclear power out. That means not only will it be ruled in, but that nuclear energy will be expected to provide a designated proportion of Britainâ€™s power needs into the long-term future.
It follows that around 10 new nuclear power stations will be required around the UK. If financial problems arise with these projects, the Government could be forced to make a choice between propping them up or seeing its own energy policy wrecked.
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Because decisions over large power station projects are not devolved, the Assembly Government will have no say over whether a new nuclear power station should be built at Wylfa. This is convenient for both parties of government. Labour anti-nuclear adherents at Cardiff Bay can maintain their position on the high moral ground while conveniently leaving the decision to Westminster. And Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones can avoid a showdown with Plaid colleagues over his support for a new nuclear power station in his constituency.
While the idea of letting the private sector take the financial risk in any future nuclear power projects has its attractions, there are many who would be uneasy about the state abandoning control of such a hazardous industry. Regulatory regimes in other sectors that have been privatised, have sometimes been insufficiently robust.
There is also, of course, the example of the railway network, where it is arguable that the financial risk has remained with the state while profits have been scooped up by the private sector. The same applies to many dubious private finance initiatives.
And, of course, there is the huge issue of public safety.
All of these questions need to be fully considered before new nuclear power stations are approved.