From Ben, our senior nuclear campaigner.
So, finally, the government’s self-styled "consultation" on the future of nuclear power has finished (by some quirk of fate on the same day as the 50th anniversary of the terrible nuclear accident at Windscale). Frankly, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a more pointless exercise.
The crux of this rather thorny issue is that the government is obliged to run the "fullest public consultation" (pdf) before changing its policy on nuclear power. In 2006 they tried to run one of these, but without much success. In fact their first attempt was so ham-fisted that a high court judge described it as "unfair", "misleading", "very seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair" and ordered them to do the whole thing again. Having (apparently) gone back to the drawing board, in May the government announced a new nuclear consultation that would remedy all the judge's concerns. Or at least that was the plan.
We'd said from the off that Greenpeace were up for an open, fair and balanced debate on the role of nuclear and other sources of energy in tackling climate change, and even spent hours in meetings with government officials telling them how they could do this. But we were never entirely convinced that the government shared our enthusiasm for a proper debate. And with good reason. Consider, for instance, that right after the announcement in the high court Tony Blair said the decision "won't affect the policy at all." Then in his first Prime Minister’s Questions, slap bang in the middle of the latest consultation if you please, Gordon Brown went even further, saying "that is why we have made the decision that we will continue with nuclear power". Strong stuff, but why, you might ask, can the government seriously expect people to contribute to an exercise which they themselves are saying is essentially pointless?
Why indeed. It's now patently clear that the government decided some time ago that they wanted to pull together a sham consultation designed to rubber-stamp their pre-ordained decision to support new nuclear power stations. And it wasn't just us that smelt a rat. Senior academics were highly sceptical of the process. One of them commented that "we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke - to make a decision on the validity of new nuclear build when questions on key issues of waste, siting, reactor design and safety have not been resolved." Many of the poor unfortunates roped in to take part in the government's day-long "deliberative" events felt they’d been stitched up. "I feel I have been mugged" one said. "Not at all a consultation, merely a sleek marketing ploy," added another. "I went in with an open mind... myself and others felt we were being misled and manipulated" another bemoaned.
That is why Greenpeace decided to withdraw from the official consultation process. The decision to support new nuclear has already been made by the government and we weren't prepared to allow Gordon Brown to paint a veneer of green credibility over this shabby consultation and then tell the public that everyone loves nuclear power. What’s more, we’ve now lodged an official complaint with the Market Research Standards Board, which is now investigating the role that Opinion Leader Research (OLR), the company employed to run the consultation (and that is regularly used by Gordon Brown to carry out private polling on behalf of the Labour Party). The documents OLR put together to "inform" the public about nuclear power really do take the biscuit – they’re choc full of gems like an "advantage" of nuclear power is that it is "substantially cheaper than wind generation" and that on the whole renewables are "handy for low-power uses such as solar powered garden lights and battery chargers." Sounds slightly misleading to me. Perhaps even a little unfair.
Interestingly, today ministers in Scotland formally turned their noses up at the chance to build new reactors. Energy Minister Jim Mather said, "we completely reject the development of dangerous, unnecessary and costly new nuclear power stations in Scotland. We already have clean, green and reliable alternatives. Scotland has massive renewables potential, as well as significant opportunities for clean fossil-fuel technologies and carbon storage. Harnessing that potential can meet our future energy demands several times over, while tackling climate change."
Spot on Jim, and that's precisely why this government's dogmatic attachment to nuclear is so galling. The UK has the best renewables potential of any other country in Europe, yet the Government is desperate to allow 10 new reactors to be built – 10 reactors that will cut our carbon emissions by 4 per cent some time around 2020, leave us will a multi-billion pound radioactive waste bill to pick up and suck money and support away from renewables and technologies like CHP to boot.
This whole shebang has been a complete stitch up. The only way the government can make the case for new nuclear power is through misinformation and a liberal dose of spin. It has been clear from the start of this consultation that the process was designed to deliver a preordained conclusion. In the process they've wilfully failed to properly represent the facts surrounding nuclear power, not least around the measly cuts in CO2 emissions it will give and the massive costs of cleaning up waste that the taxpayer will inevitably have to shell out for. It's been a stitch-up from start to finish. So much for Brown's new politics.