Energy Secretary Chris Huhne

Don't rush to nuclear judgments says Energy Secretary

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has accused other European governments of ‘rushing to judgments’ over the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Japan crisis.

Huhne took a public swipe at “continental politicians” hours after Germany announced it would close down seven older reactors - perhaps permanently.

But he also insisted he was right to order a UK safety review amid warnings from MPs it could hit investment in a planned new generation of domestic nuclear power stations.

“I think that in this country we have a good, long-standing tradition of trying ... to base public debate on informed assessment,” he told the House of Commons energy and climate change committee.

“I know it can be frustrating in terms of those who want to come to more rapid conclusions but we should not rush to judgment. Let's wait until we have got the full facts.

“And I regret the fact that some continental politicians do seem to be rushing to judgments on this before we have had the proper assessment.”

Tory MP Tim Yeo, the chairman of committee, said it was “right and proper” that the Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, had been asked to carry out a review.

But he added: “In a climate that sometimes borders on hysteria there is a danger that, to try to assuage public concern, steps are taken that increase cost but are not strictly necessary for safety. I hope you will guard against that.”

Huhne said he had commissioned the review from a leading scientist to make sure debate in the UK was based “on reality and on the facts and not on a load of supposition”.

And he added: “That frankly appears to be a risk, not least in some other countries at the moment.”

Responding to complaints from one MP that he was failing to make enough public statements about the crisis, he said Dr Wightman's review “is going to be more reassuring to public opinion, whatever conclusions that he comes to, than if I was to start grandstanding, shooting my mouth off, saying something was X when it is frankly too early to tell”.

Firm information about what happened at Fukushima was still hard to obtain, he said.

“It is not possible to pick up the phone and have a sensible conversation with an informed person in Japan for the obvious reason that they have a lot of things on their mind and briefing me or anyone else is not a high priority and nor should it be.

“We have to wait and see. I know sometimes that can be frustrating but it is the safe and sensible thing to do.”

It was “far too early to tell whether there will be any impact on the investment climate”, he said, but there was “an on-going potential risk” that it could damage the market.

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