Tony Blair: Nuclear views

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No Nukes in 97

When Tony Blair and the Labour Party were elected in 1997, the party committed itself to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power but said in its manifesto that 'we see no economic case for the building of any new nuclear power stations.' [1]

No Nukes in 01

It was a line that Blair reiterated in the run up to the 2001 election. 'We have absolutely no plans to expand nuclear power,' Blair said during the election campaign. [2]

But just weeks after his second election victory, in June 2001 Blair and the government announced they were undertaking the largest review of energy for twenty years, to be undertaken by Number 10's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), under the guidance of a ministerial committee led by the pro-nuclear minister Brian Wilson. 'The review will be set within the context of meeting the challenge of global warming while ensuring secure, diverse and reliable energy supplies at a competitive price,' said Blair. [3] [4]

At the time, the review was seen as 'a move that could lead to a long-term revival for nuclear power' according to the Financial Times. Likewise the Independent said it 'opens way for a nuclear comeback;' [5] [6]

Blair also argued that the review would provide the basis for the Government's response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's report called "The Changing Climate" that had been published in 2000. The RCEP's report had argued that by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions should be 60 per cent below their 1990 level. It also concluded that that there should be no development in the UK's nuclear power capacity until the issue of nuclear waste processing and storage had been addressed. [7]

Nukes now Important

When the results of the energy review were leaked in February 2002, the then Energy Minister, Brian Wilson argued that 'Nuclear energy generators will continue to have an important role in meeting Britain's power needs'.

When the review was published, it argued that the government should set an ambitious target of meeting 20 per cent of Britain's energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. It also recommended that the Government should also 'take the necessary steps' to keep the option of nuclear power open. "Nowhere in the world have new nuclear stations yet been financed within a liberalised energy market' it concluded. [8] [9]

The White Paper

The following year, in 2003 the Labour government's long-awaited White Paper on energy entitled 'Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy', delayed any decision on nuclear power until after the election in 2005. The document noted that 'Before any decision to proceed with the building of new nuclear power stations, there will need to be the fullest public consultation and the publication of a further white paper setting out our proposals'.

In 2004 as the push for renewable energy started in the UK, especially for wind power, so the campaign to undermine renewables gathered pace. Nuclear proponents have consistently argued that renewables are unreliable and inefficient and the only way to save the climate is to have a massive increase in nuclear power.

Blair "Convinced" of Need for Nuclear

Blair has essentially become a victim of this campaign. When he announced his review of the White Paper goals in late November 2005, it is widely believed that he gave the green light to nuclear although the 'official' version is that no decision has been made. Despite this, Blair is said to be 'convinced' of the pro-nuclear argument. [10]

Other political parties were sceptical that the whole public consultation is just an exercise in spin and manipulation. 'It's a done deal' says Norman Baker, the environment spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. 'The inquiry is a fig leaf. The suspicion must be that Tony Blair has already decided to advocate an increase in the use of nuclear power. This review will serve little purpose if the Prime Minister has already made up his mind'. [11]

The week before, on the 22 November, Blair had appeared in front of the Commons Liaison Committee. Because "the facts have changed over the last couple of years", concerning climate change and energy security, Tony Blair told MPs, he believed that nuclear power was once again a serious option to supply a large part of Britain's energy. [12]

Many parts of the press were sceptical about the review, asking the simple question why the government needed yet another energy review so soon after the previous one. ' Many suspect that the only reason for another review so soon is because Mr Blair has decided he wants to go nuclear, but needs the authority of a formal inquiry' said the Daily Mail. [13]

In January 2006, the review was formally announced seeking 'views on the medium and long-term energy policy issues to be considered in the Energy Review'. [14]

Political insiders now say that the pro-nuclear agenda is being driven from within Downing Street, with help from the DTI. But many of Blair's close colleagues are now pro-nuclear.

Nuclear "Back on the Agenda with a Vengeance"

In mid-May, just days after reading a draft of the DTI report into the energy review, Tony Blair spoke to the CBI. His speech "ignited a political storm" by endorsing a new generation of nuclear power stations, before the energy review was even finished. His remarks completely pre-empted the review, leading to his political opponents saying it had been a smokescreen all along. [15]

Blair said: "The facts are stark. By 2025, if current policy is unchanged there will be a dramatic gap on our targets to reduce CO2 emissions, we will become heavily dependent on gas and at the same time move from being 80% to 90% self-reliant in gas to 80% to 90% dependent on foreign imports, mostly from the Middle East, and Africa and Russia".

"These facts put the replacement of nuclear power stations, a big push on renewables and a step change on energy efficiency, engaging both business and consumers, back on the agenda with a vengeance. If we don't take these long-term decisions now we will be committing a serious dereliction of our duty to the future of this country."

His speech was the strongest indication yet that nuclear will be given the go-ahead and were warmly welcomed by the nuclear industry. Keith Parker, from the Nuclear Industry Association said the Prime Minister's remarks came at a crucial time: "Nuclear energy is a large-scale, low-carbon source of electricity generation that, as part of a diverse, balanced energy mix, can help to ensure security of energy supply." [16]

I Have "Changed my Mind" on Nuclear

Giving evidence before MPs just days before the Energy Review was officially announced, Blair admitted that he had "changed his mind" over nuclear, going from sceptical to pro. "Whereas we left the question open and we were very sceptical at that point [of the first review], certainly, I'll be totally honest with you, I've changed my mind," he said.

He also said that it was "very difficult" to see how Britain could secure energy supplies and meet emissions goals without replacing nuclear power. [17]

Nuclear Not the Only Answer

On July 11, 2006, annnouncing the results of the energy review, Blair confirmed what everyone already knew that he would give the green light to a new generation of nuclear power plants. Blair said:

"We're about to move to a situation of importing energy. We have to at least replace our nuclear power stations. These decisions have to be taken now. Fifteen years down the line we have got high energy prices and real problems.

"Everyone will concentrate on nuclear but one of the reasons for coming here is to say nuclear is part of the answer, it's not the only answer". [18]

The Pro-Nuclear Spin Doctor


  1. Nicholas Schoon (1997) "Election '97: Local Government and the Environment, Councils to Invest Funds from Selling Homes", The Independent, 4 April; Not available online
  2. UK Environment News Limited (2001) FOE Sets Immediate Priorities For New Government, Vol 5, Issue 4, June; Not available online
  3. Nuclear Engineering International (2001) "No New Nukes, Say BNFL", 31 August, p4; Not available online
  4. David Buchan (2001) 'More than One Master: A Government Review Aims to Outline an Energy Policy for the Next 50 Years. While the UK Does not Face a US-Style Crisis, There are Contradictions Aplenty', Financial Times, 6 August, p16; Not available online
  5. Steve Connor (2001) "Blair Opens Way For A Nuclear Comeback; Prime Minister Announces A Review Of Energy Needs That May Lead To The Revival Of An Industry Traditionally Scorned By Labour," The Independent, 26 June, p10 can be viewed [1]
  6. Brian Groom, Matthew Jones & John Mason (2001) "Nuclear Power Back On Agenda: Environmentalists Fear Energy Review Will Lead To Revival," Financial Times, 26 June, p1; Not available online
  7. UK Environment News (2002) "Strategic Energy Review Announced, Volume 5, Issue 5, July/Aug". Not available online
  8. Andrew Grice (2002) "Energy Review Switches On To Renewable Power: Downing Street Think-Tank Backs Investment In Wind, Solar And Wave Power - With The Option Of New Nuclear Plants", The Independent. 23 January, p6; Not available online
  9. Andrew Taylor (2002) "Importance of Nuclear Power", Financial Times, 23 January, p2] Not available online
  10. BBC News, PM 'convinced' on nuclear future, 29 November 2005
  11. Andrew Grice, Blair Hopes for new Nuclear Programme, The Independent, 29 November 2005
  12. Oliver King and Matthew Tempest "Blair says 'Facts Have Changed' on Nuclear Power" The Guardian, 22 November 2005
  13. Becky Barrrow & James Chapman (2005) "Blair's Pounds 150 A-Year Nuclear Power Tax", Daily Mail, 30 November, p8: Not available online
  14. The Department of Trade and Industry, Our Energy Challenge - Securing Clean, Affordable Energy for the Long-Term Energy Review, January 2006
  15. Will Woodward, "Blair Decision Challenges Cameron's Green Agenda", The Guardian, 17 May 2006
  16. Patrick Wintour and David Adam, "Blair Presses the Nuclear Button", The Guardian, 17 May 2006.
  17. Matthew Tempest, "I've Changed my Mind on Nuclear Power, Admits Blair", The Guardian, 4 July 2006.
  18. Number 10, Energy Decisions Have to be Made Now - PM, Press Release, 11 July 2006.
  19. Kamal Ahmed, Nick Mathiason & Faisal Islam (2003) "New spin doctor has share options in PR firm", The Observer, 31 August, p2; Not available online