John HuttonWhat a slogan: “Nuclear is UK’s new North Sea oil”. That was the title of a front page article in yesterday’s Guardian about a pro-nuclear speech made by Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, John Hutton. Yet if you look at it more closely the story is complex…

The exact title of the article in the paper was “Nuclear is UK’s new North Sea oil – minister”, but when you read the entire article there is no quote from Hutton stating exactly that. Hutton estimates that there could be a £20bn economic bonanza from nuclear that will create 100,000 new jobs, and the newspaper itself conflates the two – the previous economic benefits of North Sea oil, and the possible financial benefits in the future of nuclear. Have a look at Google News – only The Guardian makes the comparison so explicit.

But then what about the substance of Hutton’s speech? Since Tony’s departure, Hutton seems to be positioning himself as the ultra-Blairite in the cabinet, something that has not escaped Polly Toynbee. From the neutral position on nuclear at the start of this decade, Labour has performed a steady and very major 90º turn, with an acceleration during the Brown premiership. Labour seems to have lost its soul over the issue.

Then the story moves on. Not only do we now think we need nuclear power, but somehow the government has got so carried away that it thinks we can be world leaders at it… Having made a series of balls ups and massive losses since the 1960s, and with cleanup of the UK’s waste estimated at £70 billion how the hell can ministers manage to say this with a straight face? It’s really remarkable, and must be one of the most major lobbying coups of any industry in recent British history. We’re well behind France and the USA and do not exactly have an excellent record in recent years of engineering prowess in the UK. Remarkable, absolutely remarkable.

Anyway, I’m off to a PES Activists event in Brussels this evening about nuclear. No way can I defend the UK positions there!


  1. There is a cable (interconnector) under the Irish Sea already. So Ireland can get some too!

    Sorry, shouldn’t be sarcastic, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the sort of argument Hutton would make! I’m sure there’s no sensible plan for the waste and Ireland (and everyone else) has good reason to be concerned.

  2. As an Irish person, I can’t say I’m delighted at this turn of events. We in Ireland, of course, get to deal with all of the negatives and don’t even get any of the benefits of the proposed nuclear boom. Do you think that in this round of world leadership on nuclear, Britain will think of something more enterprising to do with nuclear waste than bury it at the bottom of the Irish Sea?

  3. Don’t get me wrong – I am not totally opposed to nuclear per se. You have to find the right solution to the exact problem at hand… In the UK there are massive savings to be made in terms of energy efficiency, and also loads of potential for renewables that has just not been used. So until that happens I am not willing to contemplate nuclear. There’s also the market and price issue – if you take the waste storage into account nuclear is not market competitive.

    Compare that to Finland and the new nuclear plant and the picture is very different. With little extra scope for renewables, and little scope on energy efficiency, what options were there for Finland?

    In short don’t read my critique as being opposed to nuclear full stop.

  4. Jon,

    This and earlier posts of yours on nuclear power begs the question about your proposed alternatives.

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