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Nuclear challenge for government

The cabinet met this afternoon to discuss its response to the nuclear emergency in Japan.

As the day started with a third explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the public reaction began to escalate against nuclear construction, including in France - the world’s second biggest nuclear producer.

Energy secretary Chris Huhne will be reminded of his anti-nuclear stance as a Liberal Democrat MP many times over the coming weeks, but now finds himself in an uncomfortable position.

Analysts have been queuing up to announce that public outcry will surely see nuclear expansion plans in the UK delayed at the very least.

Explosions have so far hit three of the Fukushima plant’s six reactors, with two more expected to be under threat over the coming 48 hours as they have begun to overheat.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have been evacuated from the area but what is also striking is the level of government reporting and its plea to the international community for assistance.

A proud country, whose residents continue to form orderly queues for food, shelter and transport in what has been described as Japan’s worst crisis since World War II, is now waiting to see what happens next.

The effect on its economy is enormous, with the Bank of Japan hurriedly injecting more than £110 billion to try and help stabilise the markets.

How the country will even begin to set about rebuilding the devastated villages where boats and cars lie on top of buildings as if the world has been flipped upside down, remains to be seen.

The knock-on effect for the UK is likely to be great as well. As energy markets struggle to cope with the loss of nuclear power, the price of gas has risen to a two year high.

The big question in terms of UK construction is how will the public outcry over nuclear power affect the industry here, potentially worth as much as £60bn to the economy.

Eight new nuclear stations are proposed for the UK as just one of the existing 10 plants will be operational in 2023.

However none of these stations has planning permission yet and with the Infrastructure Planning Commission to be abolished, ministers will come under intense pressure as they are expected to make the final decision on projects such as nuclear plants.

In the short-term, the government will be lobbied by anti-nuclear groups on one side, and powerful energy groups with a vested interest in nuclear new build on the other. Either way some tough decisions will have to be made and the future of nuclear power in the UK has been plunged into uncertainty.



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