As new brooms often do, “nuclear sceptic” Chris Huhne has swept around a little and found – who’d have guessed it – a £4bn black hole in unavoidable nuclear de- commissioning and waste costs ! He has been statesmanlike enough not to make this an anti-nuclear issue per se, but to blame it squarely on his predecessors. From the Graun:
“In [the] current financial year the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's budget is expected to be in balance. From 2011-12, the deficit suddenly rises to £850m, in 2012-13 the gap increases further to £950m and then to £1.1bn in the two subsequent years. If the Treasury refuses to shoulder the full costs, Huhne's department would have to make cuts with possible implications for energy efficiency and climate change programmes”
“This is a fairly existential problem. The costs are such that my department is not so much the department of energy and climate change, as the department of nuclear legacy and bits of other things"
Now Chris Huhne may be ‘just’ a canny politician doing what spending departments always do, but we are told that Osborne is fairly cute himself. So there’s a bit of an opportunity here, notwithstanding that the process may need to be intermediated by the new and untried (LibDem) Chief Secretary Danny Alexander.
My solution: yes, you guessed - two birds with one stone. (a) extra nuke costs to be borne from existing budgets - at the expense of the more fatuous renewables projects: (b) increase the liabilities on would-be nuke developers, to cater for the fact that clean-up, like an Olympic stadium, always costs more than anyone thinks. Thus making life more difficult for two undeserving groups of subsidy-wallahs.
The difficult bit may be (a), because most renewables subsidies, being levied via electricity bills, aren't from the same pot of £££ as nuke decommissioning. But hey - what's a clever Chief Secretary for ?! The other problem will be the Civil Service instinct to take out onion and sadly declare the nuke bill will have to be met from cuts in the energy efficiency budget - which is the very thing that is most deserving of public cash.
But ... get this right, and there could be a very satisfactory outcome here.