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Great Britain Okays Nuclear Energy

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Once, it was dead.

A White Paper on energy, released in 2003, described nuclear power as an "unattractive option" and included no plans to replace existing reactors when they closed. Although it left a tiny door ajar open to more nuclear plants, Friends of the Earth said the policy sounded "the death knell" for nuclear power in Britain.

One thing you learn in life is not to declare something dead unless there’s no evidence of breath on the mirror.

The Prime Minister [Gordon Brown] will set "no upper limit" on the number of nuclear plants that will be built by private companies. That would mean nuclear, which provides about 20 per cent of Britain's electricity, could meet a bigger share after the new generation of nuclear stations come on stream over the next 15 years.

This comes via the Independent’s Andrew Grice. While Brown says the sky’s the limit, the number being contemplated currently is eight. Why is this happening now? Well, Tony Blair, the previous prime minister, had already laid the groundwork by advocating for nuclear energy against that 2003 report, and it may be that Brown is seeing his options narrow a bit. Why should this be? The Guardian’s Michael White writes:

Ministers want the private sector to make the running, but fear that the parallel contraction of the UK's coal and oil-fired generating capacity, on environmental grounds, will trigger a serious energy gap unless the government moves decisively.

(I think “to make the running” above means “to make it happen” in Amurrican. We’ve noted the government’s attempts to exit the energy business in recent weeks.)

We might add to this formulation that Great Britain has a set of aging plants expected to be retired in the next 15 years and these new ones will likely act as more robust replacements.

Some of the “she said” in the he said she said reporting paradigm are getting pretty tired.

John Sauven of Greenpeace said: "This is bad news for the fight against climate change. Nuclear power cannot get us out of the carbon hole.”

and

The Liberal Democrats also warned that a switch to more nuclear energy would do nothing to solve the immediate problems caused by the doubling of oil prices over the past year.

It makes you think Liberal Democrats have the life span of mayflies and think only in terms of tomorrow or perhaps next week. (Granted, politicians everywhere and across the ideological spectrum think too much in terms of now – you might argue that we wouldn’t be where we are “now” if more thinking was done about “now” when it was “then.”)

As for Greenpeace, well, it’s not as though you can’t count on them for a tart quote when you’re doing a nuclear story, so there it is.

But in sum, this is terrific news. Europe is quickly moving toward a nuclear solution, with Asia on its heels . We’ll be looking to see how industry in Britain responds to this vote of confidence.

Picture of alliums in the cancer research garden at the Chelsea Garden Show in London.

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