Opinion: Has Blair handed the greens a red herring?

Despite the public statements of outrage, environmental campaigners may well have suffered deja vu this weekend at the leaked 'news' that the Government plans to 'keep the nuclear option open'.

Only a couple of years ago the media were frightening the horses over nuclear plans in advance of the 2003 Energy White Paper, which in substance said much the same thing: that the Government hadn't ruled out the nuclear option. The situation has changed little.

A review of climate strategy has long been pencilled in, and it is widely anticipated that another Energy White Paper is in the pipeline. Again this is likely to pose big questions, but is unlikely to come up with any big answers.

Even Tony Blair's headline-grabbing promise not to erode living standards in pursuit of meeting Kyoto targets is not new. At Davos he openly admitted that 'if we put forward... something that involves drastic cuts in growth of standards of living, it matters not how justified it is, it simply won't be agreed to'.

It is this statement that is likely to add new life to the anti-nuclear lobby. Chris Rose, the ex-Greenpeace campaigner who masterminded the Shell/Brent Spar incident, believes Blair's unwillingness to compromise in favour of the climate could act as a clarion call to unify environmental campaigners in areas ranging from air travel to international aid.

Despite the ongoing debate, the frisson associated with the nuclear issue somehow seems to have passed. Chernobyl raised fears around the world, but for anyone under 30, this is part of history, not a current concern. However, although it remains to be seen whether environmental groups will grasp what Rose describes as a 'generational opportunity', the nuclear issue has suddenly become more salient.

This all makes a headlong rush to build nuclear reactors all the more unlikely. A government committee on what to do with nuclear waste is not due to report until July 2006. And quite apart from the fact that the Government would virtually have to guarantee a market for investors 20 years hence for the private sector to be willing to pick up the bill, can you imagine the unholy row that would break out over planning consent?

John Prescott has been demonised simply for seeking to build low-cost housing for key workers. It would be a brave politician to raise the spectre of the Sizewell inquiry. The NIMBYs will be out in force. Will a bruised Blair have the bottle?

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