Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF describe consultation as sham
* John Vidal, environment editor
* The Guardian
* Friday September 7 2007
Britain’s leading environmental groups are poised to formally withdraw from a government consultation today that will determine whether ministers will be able to push ahead with plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.
The coalition which was asked to provide evidence to inform the debate believes the government has failed to fairly reflect the arguments for presentations that will be given to more than 1,100 members of the public that are due to start tomorrow.
The process was forced upon the government by the high court, which ruled in February that a previous consultation was “seriously flawed” and “manifestly inadequate and unfair”. At least six groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and Green Alliance, claim the government is distorting the evidence and say they are considering whether to take the case to court again.
The accusations are damaging because the government is bound by its own guidelines to keep an open mind on new nuclear power stations until after the “fullest public consultation”. If the government is forced into a third consultation it could delay major energy decisions being made for at least a year.
Eight meetings are to be held tomorrow in cities around the UK to present all sides of the nuclear debate. More than 1,100 people will be asked to assess the case for and against nuclear power; they will then be asked to vote. The process is being run by Opinion Leader Research (OLR), a market research organisation contracted by the government to convene the meetings.
Concern about the direction of the consultation has been growing within the environmental groups, which were invited by ministers to provide their own arguments. They have now drawn up a document which details their anxiety. Some of their concerns may be outlined to ministers today.
The document accuses the government of “conducting a public relations stitch-up designed to deliver a preordained policy on new nuclear power” and “rushing” a consultation process that its advisers say should take at least nine months.
“The new consultation is no different from the government’s previous attempt at a nuclear consultation,” it says. “It skirts over the many negative aspects of nuclear power, such as its enormous cost, what to do with all the radioactive waste new build will create, and how little nuclear power will do to help cut carbon emissions and guarantee energy security.”
The document continues: “It has become clear that the government has already made up its mind … and that this new consultation is nothing more than an expensive sham. ”
Ben Ayliffe, a spokesman for the groups, said: “We have given the government every chance to make the information they give to the public impartial, but they have chosen to ignore it. It has not wanted an open debate. We would rather not go to court, but it is an option that we are considering.”
The groups also cite Gordon Brown, who told parliament at prime minister’s question time that a decision to continue with nuclear power had been taken “and that is why the security of our energy supply is best safeguarded by building a new generation of nuclear power stations”. The prime minister qualified his remarks a week later after a warning letter from Greenpeace’s lawyers.
“Brown’s original statement prejudged the whole consultation and totally undermined the pretence that the government has an open mind on the future of nuclear [power] in the UK,” says the document.
“Greenpeace, with other NGOs, trade unions, renewable energy companies and representatives of the nuclear industry met with OLR and the government in July to discuss this stakeholder briefing pack. This document was full of pro-nuclear opinion masquerading as fact … This document is fundamentally flawed and cannot form the basis for a full public consultation.”
Last night, John Hutton, the secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform, said: “The government’s preliminary view is that nuclear should play a part in providing our homes and businesses with the low-carbon energy we need to make sure the lights stay on and to protect the health of our planet. We want to know whether the public and other organisations share this view. I would be extremely disappointed if Greenpeace and others decide not to participate in this full consultation they called for.”
A spokesman for OLR said the information to be presented to the public was based on the government’s own consultation document. “We have included some of the views of other organisations, including environment groups, energy companies and renewable organisations. The government has decided what information is given to people. There is a good range of views,” said a spokeswoman.
“The information people get is not structured in a ‘for or against nuclear’ way. They get the background information about energy policy and then find out more about nuclear energy. The document talks about risks and how waste and safety is managed. Some of the information is from Greenpeace and environment groups,” she said.
The government has made no secret that it believes nuclear power is needed to avoid future energy shortages. Tony Blair was a champion of the industry. The official line is that the nuclear option in the energy mix must be kept open.