Russell Lynch: Theresa May on prongs of Morton's Fork in nuclear power fiasco

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Theresa May has been lauded in many quarters as the new Margaret Thatcher, and she’s certainly taken one famous dictum of the Iron Lady to heart: “If there is one thing I’ve learned in politics, it is never make a decision until you have to.”

The new Prime Minister has given herself another month to ponder the benighted Hinkley Point nuclear power station project,  but unfortunately the choices won’t be any better after her summer holiday. 

Nigel Lawson — the Chancellor Thatcher sacked — once said  “to govern is to choose”, but  May is skewered on Morton’s  Fork: a decision between  two equally undesirable alternatives.

If she presses the button on Hinkley and the “nuclear renaissance” promised by Tony Blair more than a decade ago, she gambles with expensive, unproven technology.

She also puts a huge chunk of the UK’s future energy security in the hands of the French and the Chinese, and saddles the taxpayer with a £30 billion bill for the next 30 years. Every voter in the land will be reminded of Hinkley when they open their energy bills.

But if she abandons the scheme in favour of cheaper alternatives, such as delaying the commitment to close the nation’s fleet of dirtier coal-fired power stations by 2025 for example, she inflames an environmental lobby already angered by cuts to renewable subsidies last year. That came when the UK signed up to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

Gas-fired power stations are far cheaper and quicker to build than nuclear. But the Coalition’s introduction of a new capacity market — paying developers to supply power in four years’ time — has thus far failed to encourage a surge in new gas plants as it awarded tens of millions in contracts to power stations that were open already. 

UK energy policy is frankly a complete muddle. But the Hinkley Point fiasco is particularly heartbreaking; the UK once led the way in civil nuclear power, but hasn’t opened a new nuclear power station since 1995. 

Thatcher talked a good game on nuclear, but cheap North Sea  oil and gas dented the business case, and now half of our  nuclear capacity is due to close  by 2025. 

I suspect that the Government is now so far down the track with Hinkley Point that May will give the go-ahead, but it’s a decision I can’t imagine she’ll take with particular relish. 

The sorry saga reminds me of  the gruesome words of Macbeth:  “I am in blood/Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as  go o’er.”

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July 29, 2016 |
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