Viki Cooke: Public must have a say on nuclear

Few would argue against public consent being an essential component of effective legislation.

So the DTI was right to state when launching its Energy Review that it wanted 'to give members of the public an opportunity to voice their views'. However, to date there has been scant evidence of such an opportunity.

In March, 100 members of the Opinion Leader Panel – a network of 500 opinion leaders from business and politics – were interviewed about the Energy Review. They considered the review to be thorough and that the Government was making real efforts to engage with stakeholders. But nearly 80 per cent said the Government had failed to communicate the review's issues effectively to the public, while the same number called for an official public consultation.

The panel was also sceptical about Labour's open-mindedness on the issue of extended nuclear generation, with 52 per cent believing it has already committed to press ahead.

Climate change, of course, is about much more than nuclear power.
 But there is a danger of the debate degenerating – like the GM food debate – with the public agenda dominated by hostile single-issue pressure groups and tabloid scare stories.Recent large-scale consultations 'Your Health, Your Care, Your Say' and the 'National Pensions Debate' have demonstrated clearly that the public will engage in making challenging trade-offs and difficult decisions to ensure a safe, secure, healthy future. And Energy Savings Trust research shows that people would like to have more control of their energy supply, and are willing to reduce energy use, given the right incentives.

Public consent is vital if the Government is to reach its Kyoto commitments and maintain its lead in driving global change. And a say in the long-term future for energy in the UK is the very least that its voters deserve.

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