Ministers have been told they must decide if they really want new nuclear reactors in Britain – as the head of EDF accused an MP of jingoism.
The clash came at a lively evidence session of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee’s inquiry into the challenges for building new nuclear.
Hinkley Point in Somerset has been earmarked for the first new nuclear power station in a generation, with Oldbury in Gloucestershire also a possible site.
Supporters of Nuclear Energy (Sone), a group of 300 individuals who promote nuclear, claim the Government’s policy “represents a substantial degree of risk”.
The group’s secretary is Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s former spin doctor, with millionaire businessman Sir William McAlpine, the chairman.
They told MPs: “One thing has been consistently missing from the energy scene so far: a clear indication as to whether the Government really does want nuclear power to be developed in the UK.”
Sone accuses ministers of omitting to argue the case for nuclear power in any noticeable way. It concludes: “A complete overhaul of energy policy is required to make nuclear power the spearhead of a drive to obtain genuinely secure, low-carbon and affordable power generation.
“We think the greatest step forward would be for the Government to decide whether it really does want nuclear power or not and, if it does, to come out powerfully for it.”
French-owned EDF told the MPs it had begun site preparation works at Hinkley and remained fully committed to the project. But it warned continued progress on electricity market reform would be “vitally important for our final investment decision for Hinkley Point C”.
EDF – which is majority owned by the French state – is involved in discussions with coalition ministers over a guaranteed ‘strike price’ for electricity from nuclear plants.
Committee member Phillip Lee, Tory Bracknell MP, suggested the scheme looked like it was set up “to pay an annuity to the French taxpayer for the next 40 years”.
But as tempers frayed, chief executive Vincent de Rivaz told him: “You should avoid any sort of jingoism in this matter.”
He said guaranteed electricity prices were the best way to ensure investment at Hinkley was worthwhile, and meant the Government would not have to underwrite the construction costs.
Greenpeace said the Government was working on the basis ten new reactors would be built, but it was more plausible there would be four, two at Hinkley and two at Sizewell, Suffolk.