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FactCheck: what's new in nuclear?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 10 January 2008

Business secretary John Hutton boasts that he's 'giving the go ahead today' to a new generation nuclear power station. Really? FactCheck isn't so sure.

The claim

"Giving the go ahead today that new nuclear power should play a role in providing the UK with clean, secure and affordable energy is in our country's vital long term interest.

I therefore invite energy companies to bring forward plans to build and operate new nuclear power stations."
John Hutton, business secretary, House of Commons, 10 January 2008

The background

To some, nuclear power is the best proven source of climate friendly, low-carbon power we have. To others, it's a phenomenally expensive and potentially dangerous mistake.

No wonder politicians have tended to treat the issue as if it's radioactive.

The bold announcement in the commons today, that the government is 'giving the go ahead' to a new generation of nuclear power stations has unsurprisingly generated quite a few headlines.

But there's a very big gap between announcing something in the Commons and it actually happening in real life. Indeed, does this announcement actually contain anything new?

The analysis

The fact is that the government has been effectively pro-nuclear for years. Power companies have been free to build new nuclear stations if they think they can make money from them.


The obstacles to nuclear power are economic and technical - new power stations are extremely expensive to build, and the skills to build them are in very short supply.

New planning legislation is already in place which allows them to fast-track planning applications and override local opposition to new build.

The obstacles to nuclear power are economic and technical - new power stations are extremely expensive to build, and the skills to build them are in very short supply.

The waste issue is still unsolved - leaving a potential bill of billions of pounds to be picked up long after the last kilowatt has flowed out of the power station.

So what is actually new in this bill?

Well, not much that we can actually see.

The chancellor has announced plans for a new body, the Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board, to advise it on the financial implications of decommissioning and waste.

The suspicion is that the government will need to provide some kind of subsidy to make nuclear energy work - either in the form of a guaranteed income stream, or some kind of incentive to reward nuclear operations for their low emissions.

But this was announced today.

The verdict

The government hasn't given the go-ahead to nuclear power today. It has always been in favour. It's just that the UK's power companies have not found the nuclear option attractive.

In fact, this announcement seems to have almost no substance to it at all.

FactCheck rating: 4.5

How ratings work

Every time a FactCheck article is published we'll give it a rating from zero to five.

The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largerly checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.

In the unlikely event that we award a 5 out of 5, our factcheckers have concluded that the claim under examination has absolutely no basis in fact.

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