Billions of pounds should be invested in new nuclear power stations to keep the lights on, the Government’s former chief scientist said yesterday.
Such a move would be a massive U-turn for the Government – its policy is to back new nuclear but not subsidise it – and trigger a major split with the Liberal Democrats.
But Professor Sir David King said without heavyweight Government intervention, a new generation of nuclear reactors will simply not be built.
His demand could also see the £32 billion Severn Barrage get the go-ahead after decades of wrangling. But it is the call to intervene on nuclear, rather than let the free market take responsibility, that is most controversial and will anger green pressure groups.
The radical move could revive the proposed new nuclear reactor at Oldbury in Gloucestershire, after its backers dropped out over the risk to their investment. And it would ensure that Somerset’s Hinkley Point C – where EDF is yet to make a final decision – goes ahead.
“I think the Treasury feels this is up to the market to deliver, but actually this is isn’t going to happen,” Sir David said. “Infrastructure on this scale is going to need public-private partnership with strong Treasury intervention to signal where the investment should take place.”
He warned: “There are situations where dogma takes over from reason – that’s what may well be happening here.”
Sir David was the Government’s top scientist from 2000 to 2007, and was in charge during the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, while publicising the threat from climate change.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne must get involved, rather than leading it to Lib Dem Environment Secretary Ed Davey, he argued.
“There’s a massive investment opportunity, which needs to be opened up by Government putting money in – which demonstrates confidence.”
The need to move road transport from petrol to electricity would require a new generation of nuclear reactors to cope with demand.
And infrastructure projects such as the Severn Barrage, previously ruled out as too expensive, could be back on the cards with private-sector interest, boosting the economy and providing jobs, he said.
The Western Daily Press reported in March how German companies RWE and E.ON scrapped their massive investment plans for Oldbury, in Gloucestershire, and Wylfa in North Wales, under the Horizon project.
Meanwhile, EDF this week announced a £2 billion contract for development work at Hinkley, but the firms will take a final investment decision at the end of the year.
And Mr Davey stressed the coalition policy is no public subsidy for new nuclear.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman told the Daily Press last night: “We are clear that it will be for energy companies to construct, operate and decommission nuclear power stations.”