The UK nuclear industry was disappointed today to lose John Hutton as business and enterprise minister in a reshuffle by prime minister Gordon Brown. However, the nuclear brief will be taken up by Ed Miliband at a new department reconciling energy with climate change.
Hutton, who represented Barrow and Furness not far from Sellafield, had been a tireless nuclear advocate in recent months and repeatedly described nuclear power as a 'no-brainer'. Under Hutton, the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform had rapidly modernised its bureaucracy for licensing new nuclear power plants, notably creating a Joint Programme Office with the Environment Agency.
This was part of a major push by UK leaders to enable the replacement of nuclear power plants due to retire in the next decade. New nuclear plants need to able to come online from late 2017, or private enterprise will build fossil-fired plants instead to meet a generation shortfall that grows from 2014.
Hutton will be replaced by Peter Mandelson, who has been called back from the trade brief of the European Commission. However, Mandelson will not oversee energy matters as these are being packaged up with climate change into a new department to be headed by Ed Miliband.
Details of this new department are not yet available - one question being whether it takes over responsibility for radioactive waste management from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - but it is known that the government has aimed for some time to reconcile and integrate energy and climate change policies.
The Guardian quoted John Sauven of Greenpeace: "For the last ten years this government has dithered on climate change, offering us inspiring rhetoric but little in the way of real action. Bringing energy and climate together at last reflects the urgency of the threat we face from climate change."
Miliband will now set to work with the aim of reducing emissions by 20% and sourcing 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020, according to European targets. He must also facilitate the replacement Britain's nuclear power fleet for mass low-carbon power generation from around the same time.
Nuclear power currently provides about 18% of UK electricity, but the replacement initiative is only limited by private enterprise's willingness to invest.