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

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Nuclear power may still need taxpayer help says watchdog

Ecologist

22nd January, 2010

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
Hughes.

'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

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