Nuclear power may still need taxpayer help says watchdog

| 22nd January 2010
Nuclear power station

The government has repeatedly said new nuclear power stations can be built without public subsidy

Government spending watchdog says it is still not convinced new nuclear power stations will be built without public subsidies

Independent Government auditors have questioned the ability of energy firms to pay the full building and cleanup costs of a possible ten new nuclear power plants announced last year.

The UK Government sold its stake in British Energy, which owns the sites most suitable for new nuclear power stations, to French firm EDF Energy in 2008.

It has said that it expected the energy firm to be able to get new nuclear stations up and running without public subsidy.

Waste costs

However, in a new report the National Audit Office (NAO) has said that EDF did not give the Government any 'binding commitment' that it would build the power stations or that taxpayers would not have to pick up the costs of cleaning up nuclear waste.

'It [the Government] remains responsible for funding any shortfall in the future cost of decommissioning British Energy’s existing nuclear power stations,' said the NAO.

No plan B

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said there were still doubts about whether new nuclear power stations could be built without support from the taxpayer, and that the UK needed an alternative plan if they pulled out.

'The biggest priority for the Government was, however, to ensure new nuclear power stations could be built from the earliest possible date and with no public subsidy. Whether it will achieve this remains to be seen.

'The Department of Energy and Climate Change now needs to make real progress on its contingency plans should EDF be unwilling to build new nuclear power stations,' said Morse.

The NAO scepticism follows criticism last week from the Government's green watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).

Giving evidence to MPs from the Energy and Climate Change Committee, SDC officials said they were 'very sceptical' that effective arrangements had been made for nuclear waste.

‘If we haven’t gone far enough down the line of actually constructing a process to deal with the legacy waste [waste from present and past nuclear programmes], should we be adding to the problem by commissioning new reactors,’ asked SDC Senior Policy Analyst James Greenleaf.

Taxpayers to pay

The Liberal Democrats said it would be the taxpayer rather than energy firms who would inevitably have to pick up the tab for nuclear clean-up costs.

'This report shows the Government’s blindness to the clean-up costs of
nuclear power in its headlong rush to build new plants,' said Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Simon

'The Government’s promises to build new nuclear power stations without public subsidy are virtually worthless when it’s already writing blank cheques to private energy firms.'

Useful links

National Audit Office report

Sustainability watchdog slams Government’s energy plans
The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has accused the Government of producing energy strategies that are 'carbon blind'
Government approves ten new sites for nuclear power
Environmental groups say nuclear power will create a legacy of waste and undermine the UK's drive towards an economy based on renewable energy
Nuclear gets fast-track, but renewables left with little
New Government planning rules will shorten the approval process for big power projects like nuclear plants, but do little for the local renewables sector
Letter: everyone suffers from new nuclear
It's not just the UK that suffers from the Government's new fervour for nuclear power; communities worldwide will feel the folly of the move...
Finland's safety fears over next-generation nuclear reactor
Safety concerns may halt construction of a new nuclear facility in Finland, posing questions about the viability of the next generation of European Pressurised Reactors destined for the UK


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