A British court has handed a major defeat to pro-nuclear lobbyists by declaring that the process by which the Labour government planned to introduce ten new nuclear power plants was flawed and illegal.
The judicial review challenge mounted by Greenpeace UK is an unprecedented triumph against an autocratic and arrogant government that is well known to make decisions in private and then fakes a consultation process later.
“I think it’s the arrogance of this government. You know they make up their mind and even when they say they’re going to have a full public consultation – the exercise is just a sham, John Sauven, Director of Greenpeace, told Off-Grid.
“They just treat it with total disdain, they treat the public with total disdain and I think it’s quite good really that this issue has been aired in the court.”
Greenpeace sought yesterdays ruling on the basis that the Government failed to present clear proposals and information on key issues surrounding a new generation of nuclear power stations before publishing the review. These issues include disposal of radioactive waste and the costs of new build.
The challenge had centred on the process that led up to the publication of the government’s Energy Review Report last July. Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, told parliament, on the basis of the report, that nuclear power had to be part of Britain’s energy supply over the next 40 years.
However, in the High Court this month, lawyers for Greenpeace argued there had been inadequate consultation before the report was released, and insufficient information available in time. The consultation had been seriously flawed and something had gone clearly and radically wrong said a senior Judge. It contained no information of any substance on two critical issues the economics of new nuclear building and the disposal of waste. All the information of any substance on those issues only emerged after the consultation period had concluded.
There could be no proper consultation, let alone the fullest consultation, if the substance of these two issues was not consulted on before a decision was made, he said. There was therefore procedural unfairness and a breach of Greenpeace’s legitimate expectation that there would be the fullest consultation before a decision was taken.
Dr Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Solar Century and Charterhouse Fellow in Solar Energy at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, described Thursday’s events as a shattering blow for the nuclear industry but a victory for common sense.
Whatever the outcome of the High Court’s pondering, and whatever one thinks about the safety and security issues, nuclear power cannot be deployed quickly enough to help us, given the magnitude of the energy problems we have, he commented.
Alan Duncan, the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, said: “This is an astonishing ruling. What it really says is that the Government has been shown up as fundamentally deceitful.”
In a statement, the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), which ran the consultation, said: “This judgment is about the process of consultation, not the principle of nuclear power. We will of course consult further.”
Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, later said that he would ensure “a proper consultation”. He said: “We do as a country need to take a firm view [on energy] during the course of the year.”
Britain’s 23 nuclear power stations supply around 20 per cent of the country’s electricity. All but one is due to close by 2023. The Energy Review published in July stated that new nuclear power stations would make a “significant contribution” to meeting energy policy goals.
The government claims nuclear power can provide security of supply but its fuel (Uranium) is 100% imported. Only 55% of global uranium demand is from primary mining, the rest is from dwindling inventories. The previous energy minister called it “home grown”, so no wonder the review process was flawed – the claims were nonsensical. Also its viability depended on carbon credits most likely to be funded by road charges and aviation taxes. In any case fossil fuels will run out well before they can cause the ultimate global warming.
Sarah North of Greenpeace’s nuclear campaign, said: “It looks like the Government forgot to tie their shoelaces before starting their farcical dash to dump new nuclear power stations around the country.”
Greenpeace has also argued that nuclear power is “too little, too late” and not the solution to climate change. Ms North said that the Government should look at “more efficient, effective, safer and cheaper ways than nuclear power to meet energy demands and cut climate change emissions”.
The campaign group advocates investment in renewable energy and a drive towards greater efficiency in existing power plants.
The sections of the Government’s Energy Review which supported the building of new nuclear power stations will now have to be abandoned pending new consultation.
Philip Webster, Political Editor of The Times, said the ruling would mean delay and embarrassment for the Government.
He said: “People will seize on it as an example of the way the Government does business making up its mind, then doing the consultation.”
Alas, this changes nothing and we’ll still end up with reactors vulnerable to planes and waste with nowhere to go and a truly huge bill for the pleasure.
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