Energy secretary tells climate change committee to wait for Japan quake report

Energy secretary Chris Huhne today refused to rule out delays or additional cost to the UK’s new build nuclear programme given the worsening situation in Japan.

Huhne, who yesterday asked the chief nuclear inspector to compile a report on the implications of the disaster for the UK nuclear industry, said he was unwilling to pre-judge the outcome until the facts were known.

Speaking to the energy and climate change select committee, Huhne was pressed to offer words of reassurance and support to the nuclear industry and members of the public concerned about nuclear safety in the light of the Japanese incident.

He said: “We have to wait and see what the report comes up with. [Nuclear inspector] Dr Weightman doesn’t intend to dilly dally. But I’ve no intention to do anything other than learn the lessons of this unfolding incident.”

Huhne said that despite the fact the UK doesn’t live in an earthquake zone and doesn’t suffer tsunamis, there may be a number of lessons to be learned from the explosions at the Fukushima plant.

These included whether more needed to be done to combat human error, whether more safeguards were needed in terms of back-up for the cooling of nuclear reactors, and whether enough safeguards were in place to deal with extreme weather events such as flooding.

Committee chairman Tim Yeo MP said the industry “may be concerned that a review under these circumstances will lead to serious delay” in new nuclear build.

Yeo also asked Huhne: “There will be a concern that once you commission a report the author feels obliged to make recommendations, which has implications which increase cost but aren’t strictly necessary.”

Huhne declined to give assurances that the report’s conclusions will not add to costs and delays. He said: “I’m aware of the pressure to rush to judgement. For that reason I’ve decided to establish the facts first.”

Huhne also admitted it was possible the appetite of investors to invest in new nuclear may be dampened by the Japanese accident, dependent upon the outcome of the incident.

He said: “I don’t think at the moment this is likely to dramatically increase the cost of capital, although we will keep this under review. However, there may be a change to the risk premium required by investors – but it’s too early to tell.”

Pressed to offer support to the industry to ensure continuing public confidence in nuclear, Huhne said the public were much more likely to trust an independent report than knee-jerk reassurance from politicians.

He said: “We have to wait and see. I can see it is frustrating but it’s the safe and sensible thing to do.”