Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 15:15 UK

Huhne outlines coalition deal over nuclear power plants

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne
Lib Dem Chris Huhne says there is agreement on issue of public funding

A new generation of nuclear power plants will still be built - provided no public money is spent on them, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has said.

Nuclear energy was an issue on which the Tories and Lib Dems were split when they formed their coalition government.

But Mr Huhne, one of five Lib Dems in the cabinet, said he believed a way could be found to satisfy both sides.

And if a consortium wanted to build new nuclear plants "that will, in all probability go ahead", he said.

Under the terms of the coalition deal published on Wednesday, Lib Dem MPs can abstain in any Commons votes on nuclear power but will not be able to bring down the government over it in a confidence vote.

'Integrity'

The Conservatives were initially sceptical about nuclear power under David Cameron's leadership but have fallen broadly into line with the previous Labour government's policy of replacing Britain's ageing nuclear power plants with a new generation of privately built reactors.

The Liberal Democrats have argued that renewable energy should take priority over nuclear - but Mr Huhne suggested there was little real difference with the Conservatives on the main issue of whether the public should subsidise the building of new plants.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today's programme, Mr Huhne said: "There is absolutely no disagreement between us on the key principle that there will be no public subsidy.

"Now, if it turns out that - for the first time in decades - a consortium is prepared to build a nuclear power station without public subsidy, then... that will, in all probability, go ahead.

"But I do think there are a lot of ifs there and I do think this is a way forward which allows the integrity of the Conservative and of the Liberal Democrat positions to be maintained."

National security

He said the Liberal Democrats' preference for meeting the country's energy demands remained renewables, especially as the UK had potential for wind power and wave power.

He said using renewables would also improve national security, as the country "will be more independent of imports of key energy requirements".

Energy company E.On, which is hoping to build two nuclear power stations in Britain, said it was not worried by the past hostility of the Liberal Democrats to nuclear energy.

Paul Golby of E.On said it would be wrong to assume that the views of individuals were the same as the settled policy of the government.

He said nuclear power would be needed: "I think we can demonstrate that nuclear has to be part of our future energy mix if we are going to keep the lights on and reduce carbon."



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