Writing for PoliticsHome, Margaret Ritchie MP says, when it comes to the debate on the future nuclear programme "I find it staggering to witness the inability of government's to learn from mistakes made in the past".
People in my own constituency of South Down and throughout Northern Ireland have had to live on the doorstep of the Sellafield plant for over 30 years and continue to foot the bill for its disastrous decommissioning process.
Indeed the fallacy of committing billions more pounds of public expenditure to nuclear energy has never been more apparent than it is now. The disaster in Fukushima shows that nuclear power can never be made 100 per cent safe and the resulting withdrawal of Germany from the nuclear energy market, combined with several energy companies pulling out of the UK market, demonstrates a clear lack of confidence in the industry's sustainability. With nuclear we are not just left with a public health time-bomb, we are always left to carry the financial burden.
This has always been the case and no nuclear plant has ever been developed without a large public subsidy. The Department of Energy and Climate Change currently commit some £1.7bn billion a year to nuclear decommissioning through the NDA, representing over half of the Department's budget. More specifically as part of the disastrous decommissioning process for Sellafield, the NDA has just closed the MOX processing plant there which alone cost the taxpayer £1.6bn. It is clear the legacy that nuclear leaves behind and the government need to answer why they think the future nuclear programme would be any different.
This is especially relevant now that 3 of the 4 major energy companies that planned to invest in the UK's new nuclear programme have pulled out and the fourth, EDF, look far from certain in their commitment. Yet we see in the draft Energy Bill, released in June, that the government is prepared to press on and offer more veiled subsidies to the industry. The proposal for “Contracts for Difference” will allow utility firms to levy a top-up charge should the price fall below a certain level, which has been described as little more than a subsidy through the back door. Not only is any subsidy against the coalition agreement but it could see the government enter years of wrangling with the EU regarding state aid rules. This uncertainty could be extremely damaging for investment in the much-needed truly renewable energy sources at this critical time for the energy market.
It is often said the government should not 'pick winners' in the energy market but it seems that, in the case of nuclear, they are intent in picking a loser. I do not want to see us left with a nuclear legacy that is radioactive and that we will be subsidising for years to come.