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How nuclear power decision was 'fixed'

Parliament was conned by New Labour and the ConDem coalition into supporting new nuclear power stations by distorted evidence and research that ignored important alternatives to achieve emissions cuts, including energy saving measures.

The truth behind this massive deception is revealed in a new report that describes the way the decision was taken to build 10 new nuclear power stations as “a corruption of governance”.

MPs were told that without an expansion of nuclear energy, the UK would be unable to meet its target for reduction of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The phrase "unable to keep the lights on" was used time and again.

In reality, the decision to build the 10 power stations was taken first, behind the scenes, and all the research and modelling from then on was designed to prove they were needed. Figures for future energy demand were largely invented and placed at the absolute highest level.

Unlock Democracy and the Association for the Conservation of Energy, joint authors of the report, made repeated requests to the Department for Energy and Climate Change to see the demand projections justifying nuclear claims. Finally, they received this admission: "DECC has not made any long-term projections of electricity demand supply. Our latest projections were published up to 2022 and we have previously published figures to 2025. DECC is developing scenarios of potential electricity demand/supply to 2050 but don’t have any definite figures for this yet."

The government claimed that by 2025 an additional 60 gigawatts of power generation would be needed. But the consultants employed by the government were not even asked to assess actual need for new capacity, and they did not do so. They simply assessed the options for achieving the government's stated goal of achieving 29% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. As the report explains:

In a nutshell what [the consultants] did was add up the government’s proposed policies, including the 29% renewables figure and the proposed new nuclear capacity (plus other proposed new capacity) and call that a ‘central assumption’ of need'. However this is not an assessment of need, it is an estimate of predicted generating capacity, which is altogether different.

Then the Brown New Labour government referenced this simple addition as the independent analytical source for their assumption of future need, say the two organisations who point out that they are not formally opposed to nuclear energy.

"In other words, the pre-determined policy of 10 new nuclear power stations created the ‘central assumption’ of the need for them. Rather than the need driving the policy, the policy dictated the so-called need," the report states.

The incoming coalition government commissioned some further research, modelling 16 different “pathways” to meeting both future energy needs and emissions targets by 2050. These were the basis for last year's vote accepting the need for an expansion nuclear power, but they were based on the same assumptions.

The claim is that the demand for electricity will double or even triple by 2050 but there is no evidence for this. In fact one of the government's own documents states that four different scenarios were modelled on the need for electricity until 2025 and these “scenarios all suggest that electricity demand in 2025 will be at approximately the same levels as today”. And the National Grid is planning on the basis of a similar assumption.

Just before this report was published, realising the cat was out of the bag, the DECC did finally publish some figures showing that focusing on funding for energy saving brought cost savings and greater CO2 reductions.

So it is clear that under pressure from the energy corporations, the government agreed in principle to build 10 new nuclear power stations and then manipulated the data to prove they were needed. These will cost the taxpayer billions of pounds, require public provision of storage for dangerous waste, and keep people on the treadmill of ever-increasing bills.

It would be cheaper for the public purse, and cheaper for consumers, to focus instead on energy saving. But there's no profit for the energy giants in that scenario, so it was hidden from MPs. Will they now revisit this decision and rescind it? Not likely!

Penny Cole
Environment editor
2 February 2012

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