Department of Trade and Industry

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Nuclear spin.png This article is part of the Nuclear Spin project of Spinwatch.

Taking the Lead

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was the Government department responsible for nuclear energy policy until 2007.

In June 2007, a reorganisation of Government saw the DTI dissolved and its functions absorbed by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.[1]

The DTI was the lead Government department for the Labour Government’s Energy Review, which was launched in 2006. The then-Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks led the review, under his boss, Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling.

The DTI was seen as pro-nuclear. For example, according to the Andrew Grice, political editor of The Independent: “When Tony Blair announced the Government's energy review last November, he signalled his intent by putting the pro-nuclear Department of Trade and Industry in the driving seat. It is chaired by the Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, rather than by a neutral referee such as John Prescott or an independent figure from outside government.” [2]

Act Soon on Nuclear

Pro-nuclear voices within the DTI had been gathering for some time. In May 2005, Joan MacNaughton, the head of the energy policy unity at the DTI, wrote a forty six page briefing note for the new incoming Ministers. According to The Observer:

“The Whitehall briefing, a 'first day' options paper prepared for the new Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, states that the government is widely expected to 'come off the fence' on nuclear energy and advises that it should work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Treasury and Number 10 to 'be on the front foot', making a statement on energy policy and its impact on climate change before the summer recess”.

It said that “key policy targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and boost green energy are likely to fail, and that decisions on new nuclear power stations must be taken urgently. She advised that “it is generally easier to push ahead on controversial issues early in a new parliament”.

The document pointed to the key role new nuclear power stations, which do not emit carbon dioxide, would play in tackling carbon emissions. It stated: “We now have 12 nuclear stations providing 20 per cent of our electricity carbon-free. By 2020 this will fall to three stations and 7 per cent as stations are retired”.

The document continued: “The case for looking at the nuclear question again quickly is that, if we want to avoid a very sharp fall in nuclear's contribution to energy supplies (some fall is already certain and has begun), we should need to act soon given the long lead times (10 years) in getting a new nuclear station up and running.”

The Observer article finished by talking about a power play between the pro-nuclear DTI and anti-nuclear Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). “Resistance from Defra, where Margaret Beckett remains Secretary of State, is likely to remain strong, as she is known to be particularly concerned that no decision has yet been reached on how to store Britain's stockpile of radioactive spent nuclear fuel”. Since then, Beckett has become foreign secretary to be replaced by David Miliband, a pro-Blair loyalist. [3]

A Done Deal

In May 2006, before the official results of the energy review were announced, Blair effectively gave the go-ahead for nuclear, by stating that nuclear power was "back on the agenda with a vengeance".

When pressed about what information Blair was basing his analysis on, "a Department of Trade and Industry spokesman said there was as yet no first draft of the energy review, and that the prime minister would be responding to information about its progress passed on to him by Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks". Critics called the review a smokescreen "for a decision that has already been taken."[4]


  1. Frank Swain, This government views science simply as a tool for generating profit, The Guardian, 9 June 2009.
  2. Andrew Grice, "Reviewing the Evidence", The Independent, 18 May, 2006, p4 - Not online
  3. Oliver Morgan, Secret Papers Reveal New Nuclear Building Plan, The Observer, 8 May, 2005.
  4. BBC, Blair Backs Nuclear Power Plans, 16 May, 2006.