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We May Come to Regret Passing Up the Opportunities for Jobs and Growth in New Nuclear

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It is often said that we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution that will create a cleaner, leaner and more competitive economy.

Yet opportunities in the UK are being wasted.

Last week, Vestas announced that it had scrapped its plan to manufacture wind turbines at a new plant on the Isle of Sheppey, after failing to secure the necessary orders.

This would have created up to 2000 jobs and brought significant investment to East Kent.

This further reinforces the sense of confusion about whether Britain is open for green business or not under this Tory-Liberal government.

One area where there are significant opportunities, but great uncertainty, is in nuclear power.

The Labour Party supports nuclear energy as part of a balanced energy mix that should also include renewables and carbon capture and storage.

If we are to meet our climate change targets and secure our energy future, we can't put all our eggs in one basket.

IPPR estimates that UK nuclear generation reduces our carbon emissions by between 7 and 14%.

Nuclear also provides the baseload required, and generates 16% of our electricity.

In Scotland this rises to 30%, despite the SNP's somewhat contradictory opposition to new nuclear but support for extending the life of existing plant.

Last year, Dr Mike Weightman, the UK's Chief Nuclear Inspector, reported that there was nothing to call into question the viability of nuclear power in the UK as safe and reliable.

And despite concerns raised in various quarters, it is one of the cheapest forms of low carbon generation available.

We support measures to bring down the cost of other low carbon technologies and make them more competitive.

I hope that one day we are able to source all of our electricity from renewable sources in a way that is affordable and secure.

But I am realistic enough to know that the path won't be easy. And so I prefer to deal with the world as I find it, not as I would like it to be.

I find that nuclear power is, as things stand, an important part of that energy mix. It is for that reason that it should not be ruled out.

Yet the future of new nuclear is uncertain.

Following the withdrawal of RWE npower and Eon from the Horizon consortium earlier in the year, reports of uncertainty on the part of Centrica, and suggested rising costs and delays at Hinkley Point C, the future for new nuclear seems less clear.

One of the greatest causes of uncertainty in the energy industry, and particularly with nuclear, is the government's electricity market reform.

It is not scaremongering to say that there is a risk that the government's failure thus far to provide a clear, understandable and transparent mechanism for attracting low carbon investment is detrimental to our ability to push forward with new nuclear.

Yet despite the uncertainty, the opportunities from new nuclear should not be ignored. Too often, these are overlooked for ideological reasons.

If we do proceed with new nuclear, the chance to create thousands of jobs, and the potential for economic growth, is too important to dismiss.

IPPR predict that up to 32,000 additional jobs will accrue from new nuclear, with an annual boost to the economy of over £5bn.

It is in the UK's economic, as well as energy, interests that new nuclear generation should be considered.

Many of these jobs are highly skilled, well paid and will necessarily be in parts of the country that are crying out for additional employment.

Britain has the engineers, the scientists and the builders desperate for the opportunity to put their talents to good use - and, as importantly, the people who could learn and develop those skills as part of a required engineering renaissance.

If we do it correctly, not only will we be providing skills, expertise and economic focus for people - there is also a potential export opportunity as well.

The government must not waste the opportunity provided by the need to make a transition to a low carbon economy.

And it must not miss the chance afforded by the need to replace plant reaching the end of its life.

New nuclear makes sense from the perspective of climate change, security of supply and jobs and growth.

Alongside renewables and carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy has an important role to play in reducing our carbon emissions and securing future energy supply.

The investment opportunities afforded by new nuclear could make a valuable contribution to kick starting our economy again and getting people back to work.

With the right focus, there are opportunities for jobs, skills, economic benefit and potential exports often overlooked in the ideological debate about nuclear energy.

It is incumbent on the government to seize these opportunities.

Otherwise I fear that it is something we may all come to regret.

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