The Liberal Democrats are now endorsing both nuclear power and fracking as part of the UK’s energy mix, after members voted to support them at the party conference in Glasgow on Saturday.
The use of nuclear power in ‘limited’ circumstances was backed by 230 votes to 183. It is seen as a victory for the party leadership and marks a u-turn for the party, which has historically opposed nuclear power.
Trying to sway opinion ahead of the vote, the Energy Secretary Ed Davey told delegates relying on fossil fuels and renewables would be “reckless” and said there would be no public subsidies for any new plants: “New nuclear must be cost-competitive. We will not repeat the history of mistakes on nuclear”
He added: “When I have listened to pro-nuclear Liberal Democrats over the years, there is one argument I have found increasingly difficult to answer and that is the climate change argument.
“We are going to need vast amounts of low-carbon electricity to tackle climate change. Why? Because if our carbon capture and storage plans don’t work, we may have to replace all fossil fuels for electricity generation, that is about 60% of all generation.
“If we do that without nuclear, you will need to replace about 85% of electricity generation. That’s huge.”
A motion to support fracking also won over delegates but only with an amendment to ensure the proper consultation of local residents and monitoring of emissions.
Tony Lodge, Energy Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies told ELN: “Lib Dems should not be wasting time U turning on their opposition to nuclear power but instead their Energy Secretary must concentrate all his efforts on delivering a viable strike price for new atomic power so we can get on with delivering new nuclear build.
“This programme is now far behind schedule to the extent that the first new nuclear reactor since 1995 may not be online until 2025. A result of this will be more gas-fired plant to fill the gap and yet more energy import dependence.”
In an online survey of 700 party members ahead of the conference 65% said they were in favour of nuclear power as part of the UK’s energy mix with just 26% against. Support for fracking was more muted, with 46% in favour and 36% against.
Stephen Tall, Co-Editor at The Liberal Democrat Voice, which conducted the poll told ELN: “I think this is a significant development as it is the first time the party has voted in favour of nuclear power at a party conference.
“In the past we’ve always put our hopes in renewables as the cleanest way of delivering energy but I think now people are recognising we’re going to need more than just renewables – things like nuclear or even shale gas – to get to a low carbon economy.”