Consultation ruled 'seriously flawed'

15 February 2007

A High Court judge has ruled that the process used for the UK government's 2006 consultation on energy policy was "seriously flawed", while ministers insist that nuclear power has a role to play in cutting emissions and providing energy security.

In the 2003 energy white paper, the government had said that there would be "the fullest possibly public consultation and the publication of a further white paper" before any decision to build new nuclear power stations.

A three-month consultation was launched by the government in early 2006. At the time, prime minister Tony Blair said that it would look specifically at whether to "facilitate" new nuclear build. Following the consultation which led to the Energy Review, it was decided to make changes to planning procedures to aid all types of power projects and take steps to certify the safety of new nuclear power reactor types in advance. Two white papers should be published this spring: one on energy and another on planning.

However, a legal challenge from Greenpeace has led to Mr Justice Sullivan ruling today that the consultation process had been "misleading", "seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair". He said "something has gone clearly and radically wrong" with the consultation exercise.

Mr Justice Sullivan ruled that crucial information that would be necessary for those consulted to make informed decisions was only available after the consultations. The key issues in that complaint were the cost of new nuclear power stations and the strategy for long-term management of radioactive waste. The government has always stressed that the cost of any new build would be met by the private sector investors and a waste strategy is in development after a consultation of its own that led to a decision in principle to employ deep geologic disposal.

Alistair Darling, UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said the government could appeal against the ruling, but had decided to accept it and would consult again, although there was "a race against time" with climate change.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) stressed that the judgement was about its process of consultation and not about nuclear power. The government would "press on with publication of the energy white paper" this spring, and that they were confident in the strength of their arguments to engage in further consultation.

The DTI stressed that as much of 25 GWe of new power generation is expected to be needed in the UK over the next 20 years, and as much as possible should be low carbon. Officials say that ignoring the problem will not make it go away and that a balanced approach is needed. A greater role for renewables and other low carbon sources allied to a strong focus on energy efficiency would be, they believe, the right policy.

Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) chief executive, Keith Parker, said: "The facts of energy supply in the UK are not altered by this judgement. We still face increasing insecurity in our energy supplies and rising greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear helps us keep the lights on and, as a low carbon generator, helps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. What this ruling may do, however, is to delay action to deal with these problems which, with a generating gap approaching in the next decade, cannot be good for the national interest."

Further information

Department of Trade and Industry
Greenpeace UK

WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper

WNN: British wastes headed underground