The decision by the Horizon partnership of RWE and E.ON to pull the plug on nuclear new-build in the UK has two primary causes – the change in attitude towards nuclear in their native Germany and the insouciance of the UK government in pursuing the policy to which it is nominally committed.
Following the German decision to phase out nuclear power post-Fukishima, the two giant utilities have been in confusion, with all previous strategies under review. Their first priority is to create new capacity within Germany and external investment is secondary, unless it can also serve the German market.
Anyone who believes the beneficiary of abandoning nuclear new-build will be renewables is probably deceiving themselves. Increasingly, the market-driven approach will question the massive subsidies on which renewables depend. As part of a balanced energy mix, that is acceptable, but as the dominant low-carbon option, it is unsustainable. In the real world, coal fired power stations are running at 75 per cent capacity against 25 per cent a year ago.
The loss of a nuclear new-build programme, if it is allowed to happen, will be bad for a balanced energy policy, bad for security of supply and bad for the environment. But unless the news serves as an urgent warning, that is certainly the way we are heading.
• Brian Wilson is a former UK energy minister.