The Liberal Democrats have voted to accept nuclear power, in what The Guardian called “a historic reversal of their long-held opposition to atomic energy”. But if we look more closely at the motion the Glasgow Conference accepted we can see that, were Liberal Democrat Ministers to stick to a normal interpretation of its meaning, then new reactors would be no more likely to get built after the vote than they were last week. The only way Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, can go ahead with new reactors is by redefining the crucial words in the motion by using Orwellian Newspeak.
The option agreed at the Conference by 230 votes to 183 was to accept “that in future, nuclear power stations could play a limited role in electricity supply, provided concerns about safety, disposal of radioactive waste and cost (including decommissioning) are adequately addressed and without allowing any public subsidy for new build.”
Fiona Hall MEP argued during the debate that the motion is based on a false premise because the coalition’s plans to make voters pay for nuclear power through their energy bills is tantamount to a subsidy. “If it looks like a subsidy and smells like a subsidy, it is a subsidy,” she said. Duncan Brack, a former Special Advisor to Chris Huhne said the party’s idea of allowing limited nuclear without subsidy is a “chimera” because it would be impossible. Other speakers called it a “fantasy” or a “myth”.
Yet Davey said he was absolutely determined not to sign any contract for new nuclear power stations which relied on public subsidy: “New nuclear must be cost-competitive. We will not repeat the history of mistakes on nuclear.”
Craig Bennett, policy director at Friends of the Earth, said “Ed Davey is deluded if he thinks new reactors can go ahead without public subsidy.”
But Davey isn’t deluded – he is trying to re-write the language so that we are all forced to accept his Orwellian Newspeak definition of the word subsidy. After the vote, one Brussels commentator said the outcome was based in part on “blatant lies” by Davey regarding state aid.
If he were simply deluded then why is the UK Government pushing the European Commission to change competition rules and allow direct state aid for nuclear power? (See NuClear News No.54 )
The Guardian asked “how can nuclear power ever be built except by public subsidy when commercial companies have fled the nuclear scene and the only serious players are those backed by the Chinese, Russian and French governments?”
Unfortunately Davey is not alone in his use of the Newspeak dictionary. Energy Journalist Tim Probert points out “all three main parties back nuclear without subsidy yet also support EDF getting a 35yr feed-in tariff for Hinkley Point C.”
A guaranteed price of £95 per Megawatt hour for nuclear electricity from Hinkley Point C over 35 years, if linked to inflation would yield accumulated revenues to EDF of around £143.5 billion.
But the use of Newspeak isn’t just restricted to the subsidy issue. In July Davey told The Guardian that: “The waste from new nuclear will take up less volume – that would mean a slightly larger geological waste disposal facility than was needed anyway.” He was also reported to have used the phrase “far less waste” at a fringe meeting at the Conference. Davey will almost certainly know by now that volume is not the important criteria when discussing the amount of waste produced by new reactors – it is the radioactivity and the heat generated that is important.
The Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) estimated that a programme of ten new AP1000 reactors would increase the amount of radioactivity held in all nuclear wastes by 265% – in other words almost tripling the radioactivity. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will have told Davey that a 10GW programme of new reactors would roughly double the size of the “repository footprint” – the area underground taken up by waste. A 16GW programme – the Government’s rather ambitious target – would increase the footprint by up to three times.
Once Liberal Democrat delegates to the Conference find their ordinary English Dictionary, it might be expected they will be very angry indeed at some of the misleading statements they have been told.