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Boris Johnson warns that "anti-nuke" lobby must not use Japan to stop Britain's nuclear power programme

Tim Montgomerie

In The Telegraph Jeremy Warner worries that the tragedy in Japan may have big implications for the world economy. Even more likely is that the world's nuclear industry will suffer because of the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station. Angela Merkel, already under pressure from her country's powerful Green Party, may be forced to curtail plans to extend the life of ageing nuclear reactors in Germany.

Huhne Politics Show Energy Secretary Chris Huhne - coming from an already nuclear-sceptic party - has ordered a report from Britain's Chief Nuclear Inspector:

"We take this incident extremely seriously even though there is no reason to expect a similar scale of seismic activity in the UK. I have called on the Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr. Mike Weightman for a thorough report on the implications of the situation in Japan and the lessons to be learned."

In addition to the difference in the seismic situation, Britain's existing reactors are of a different design to those in Japan. New reactors would be even safer. Boris Johnson makes this point in today's Telegraph:

"I doubt that there is any real read-across between the difficulties of nuclear reactors in a well-known earthquake zone, and the proposed nuclear programme in this country, which is becoming more essential with every day that passes. Whatever happens in Libya, whether we intervene or not (and I wouldn't hold your breath), it is clear that instability will continue for a while yet in the Middle East. It would be madness, in the current crisis, with oil capable of climbing anywhere up to $200 a barrel – with catastrophic consequences for the world economy – for us to announce that we are abandoning one of the few available long-term alternatives to fossil fuels. What would the oil price do then?"

Julian Glover, writing in today's Guardian, is nonetheless pessimistic about the industry's future:

"A catastrophe in some backward ex-Soviet state might be explained away as the sort of thing that happens in unsophisticated nations with low safety standards. But this was Japan: a land of skill and resilience imbued with a precautionary culture; a land where they'd make every preparation they could. This accident may prove nothing but could signify everything: the illogical fear that the nuclear genie can never be controlled. The loss will be ours. There is an overriding reason to cling on to the development of a dependable, universally available, low-carbon form of generation which can produce massive amounts of power. Without more nuclear plants there is no chance of this country ridding itself of fossil fuels, barring a huge cut in energy consumption which no democratic state will be able to impose. Climate change should still trump the remote prospect of nuclear calamity... If Fukushima Daiichi proves much worse than it now seems, the west will stop building new nuclear plants. If the incident is contained, we may be able to press on only at the price of loading an industry whose commercial logic is already finely balanced with high safety costs. Either way, this accident may close down the argument. Either way, the planet will feel the pain."

Those worried about energy dependence on the Middle East have as much cause to be gloomy.

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