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October 13, 2011

Weekly highlights of UK news


This week, Energy & Climate Secretary Chris Huhne said nuclear power remains a key part of the UK energy mix and the Government is committed to UK carbon budgets.  The Government won key votes in the House of Lords on the Health and Social Care Bill and Defra has moved ahead with plans in the Natural Environment White Paper to help communities create more green spaces.

The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has published the final report from the UK Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, on the implications to the UK nuclear industry of the events at Japan’s Fukushima power station in March.  The report found that the regulatory safety framework in the UK is satisfactory and there is no reason to curtail the operation of UK operating sites.   Energy & Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, said, “The report makes clear that the UK has one of the best nuclear safety regimes in the world and that nuclear power can go on powering homes and businesses across the UK, as well as supporting jobs.  We must, however, continue to improve where we can.”  Watch an interview with Dr Mike Weightmanat the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation.

On the back of the Weightman report, Chris Huhne made a speech to the Royal Society on the future of nuclear power.   He emphasized the importance of learning the lessons of past mistakes in British policy making on nuclear governance, regulation and financing to retain public support.   Huhne said nuclear power is currently the cheapest low carbon source of electricity and should play a part in the UK energy future provided that new nuclear is built “without public subsidy.”  The Energy & Climate Change Secretary said it is not in the UK interest to rely more heavily on fossil fuels and, while renewables should be a growing part of UK supply, technologies are young and expensive.  The UK approach must be a broad portfolio of low carbon technology.

Following the Chancellor’s comments that the UK will “cut our carbon emissions no slower, but also no faster, than our fellow countries in Europe”, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne has insisted that there is no shift in UK carbon strategy.  Green groups voiced concern that the Government appeared to be backing away from climate change targets but the Energy & Climate Change said that the Cabinet is united over UK carbon budgets and agreed measures should be taken to help carbon-intensive industries remain competitive.

In the House of Lords, peers voted against amendments to block the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill.  The Government fought off a Labour amendment to shelve the legislation, as well as an amendment by crossbencher peers Lords Owen and Hennessy to send the Bill to a special committee.  Health Minister Earl Howe said the legislation could be altered to address concerns but further delay could “prove fatal.”  Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the “fight” over the Bill will go on.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched the Green Infrastructure Partnershipto give local communities greater support to create green spaces.  The announcement fulfills a pledge made in Defra’s Natural Environment White Paper, published earlier this year, to consider how green infrastructure can “strengthen ecological networks and improve communities’ health, quality of life and resilience to climate change.”  The Partnership will be formed of planning professionals, landscape architects, environmental interest groups, Natural England, the Landscape Institute and the Environment Agency.

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