UK | Whitehall attacked on nuclear links

Posted on July 1, 2011

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UK | FINANCIAL TIMES | July 1, 2011 7:54 pm

MPs have accused government officials of “acting as PRs for the nuclear industry” after e-mails were disclosed showing contacts between civil servants and energy companies following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

The messages, revealed by a request under the Freedom of Information Act, showed officials wanted to prevent campaigners from using the events in Japan to argue the case against a new generation of nuclear power stations.

One civil servant from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills expressed concern that “anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground” over Fukushima.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy and Climate Change asked EDF Energy, the French company that operates 15 of the UK’s 19 civilian reactors, to welcome the government’s decision to review the safety of British nuclear plants.

MPs said this exposed an unhealthy level of contact between the parties.

Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: “We knew the pro-nuclear lobby was deeply entrenched in the old Department for Trade and Industry. It sounds as though some of those attitudes and behaviours have been allowed to carry on into the new Department for Energy and Climate Change.”

He urged Chris Huhne, energy secretary, to “come down on this type of behaviour like a ton of bricks”, adding: “You can’t have the government acting as PRs for the nuclear industry.”

Alan Whitehead, a prominent anti-nuclear campaigner from the Labour benches, said: “It cannot improve public confidence in the safety of nuclear if they learn that government departments and the nuclear industry were working to get their answers sorted out before any facts were on the table.”

But the DECC said: “We thought it was appropriate to liaise and share information with key stakeholders, given the events in Japan.”

Ministers had also held talks with environmental campaign groups, including Greenpeace. “It wasn’t just a case of government talking to the industry”, added the department. There had been “no joint PR strategy between government and industry post Fukushima”.

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