It's usually poor form to laugh at another's misfortunes, but in this case I feel a slight chortle is more than justified. EDF's
bid to takeover British Energy - the semi-state owned company charged with looking after the UK's nuclear power stations - has been kicked out, throwing a spanner of cosmic proportions into our government's plans for a new atomic age. Oops, butterfingers.
The French state-owned power company was expected to announce this morning that the ink was drying on the deal, worth over £12 billion, but early this morning it released a statement saying it was pulling out. Although the government was apparently more than happy to accept the offer on the table, it only owns 35 per cent of British Energy, some other stakeholders were not so keen. Given the ongoing hikes in energy prices, they think their assets are worth far more and so thumbed a collective raspberry at EDF's bid.
So why is there reason to be cheerful? If the deal had gone ahead, it would have dealt a hammer blow to our chances of meeting the legally binding Renewables Obligations, which must see at least 15 per cent of our total energy coming from renewables by 2020. Why? Because EDF have gone on record saying that if there is significant growth in renewable energy, the case for nuclear falls apart.
And considering that we were about to hand over a large chuck of the UK energy industry to a French company, this would have meant any decisions about closing our energy gap or investing in renewables would have been made in Paris rather than Westminster.
So where does that leave everyone? EDF won't now get their hands on the eight existing nuclear power stations it was after. It wasn't after the reactors themselves: these sites are prime candidates for any future nuclear development, so the company would have had a key stake in the government's plans. Speaking of which, ministers lose the chance to deal with one company to get their power stations built - dealing with several will make the process much more complicated. And that's not to mention the cash they were hoping would line the Treasury's coffers.
Business secretary John Hutton appeared on the Today programme this morning, putting a brave face on the matter, peddling the nonsense that we still need new nuclear power stations. Even reporter Robert Peston got himself in a lather about how we now risk "the lights going out".
This is really just a shameful attempt to scare everyone into accepting nuclear power. A new report by clever energy people Pöyry demonstrates that if the government actually does fulfil its commitments to meet EU renewable energy targets (and doesn't keep trying to stitch them up again and again) and its own ambitions to increase energy efficiency and reduce demand, then we won't need any more nuclear power stations. Or any new coal or gas ones, either. And that's true even by the government's own reckoning. So a little less scaremongering from the likes of Hutton and from a media that really should know better wouldn't go amiss. Instead, I'd like to see a bit more effort put into delivering the real energy solutions which will help us beat climate change.
Meanwhile, across the Channel our French colleagues have filed complaints against Areva about the leak last month at the Tricastin plant in Provence which saw uranium entering groundwater supplies. If you're not convinced that nuclear power is a terrible idea, this very disturbing report from the area will change your mind.
(This is a guest post by Jamie from Greenpeace UK where you can find more UK nuclear news.)