Monday, October 03, 2005

Blair adviser: attack LibDems by building a new nuclear power station at Dounreay

Blair adviser: attack LibDems by building a new nuclear power station at Dounreay - [Sunday Herald]

By Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor



A SENIOR adviser to the Prime Minister told Labour officials at a secret meeting at the Scottish Executive headquarters that building a new nuclear power station at Dounreay would be the ideal way of undermining their Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues.
John McTernan – Tony Blair’s director of political operations – suggested the move as part of an orchestrated Labour attack on the LibDems in the run-up to the 2007 Holyrood elections.

He said the plan would boost the chances of First Minister Jack McConnell’s party winning Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, the seat that is home to Dounreay and which is held by the LibDems.

The proposal is part of a Labour strategy – personally approved by Blair – to attack the LibDems in the run up to the poll. It was aired at a gathering of Labour special advisers in August at St Andrews House in Edinburgh.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways the government could use powers reserved to Westminster to help Labour win seats in the Scottish parliament and aid Labour ministers.

McTernan suggested that a nuclear station could be built at Dounreay, the troubled nuclear complex on the north coast now being decommissioned. He reasoned that the issue would divide the LibDems and unite local support behind Labour.

The Sunday Herald understands that the Edinburgh meeting was part of a series of similar discussions . Blair chaired a meeting of Scottish MPs in the Cabinet room during the summer on the same subject. It was agreed that Scottish MPs would be “let off their leash” in the next two years, during which time they would dispute LibDem achievements in the Executive and attack their policies.

The Dounreay episode also confirms that nuclear power is back on the political agenda.

Blair told the Labour conference in Brighton last week that all options “including civil nuclear power” should be assessed for tackling climate change. Labour is now set to publish proposals on energy policy next year, and Blair has instructed his strategy unit to examine whether nuclear power is a solution to global warming.

It is understood any proposals for a new generation of nuclear power stations would be strongly opposed by ministers within the Cabinet, who will seek Treasury help to block them. Jack McConnell, and many of his Executive colleagues, is also opposed to greater emphasis on nuclear power.

The LibDems say they will not agree to more nuclear power stations until the issue of radioactive waste is "resolved", while a number of Labour Ministers believe the UK Government should press ahead regardless.

The suggestion that a new power station should be built at Dounreay will come as a surprise to its operator, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which has been marketing the site as a centre for nuclear decommissioning, not power generating.

Dounreay was chosen as the site for an experimental reactor in 1954 because of its remoteness. Scientists at the time were seriously worried that the reactor might explode.

Now it is viewed by many as a symbol of the dangerous legacy governments can leave for future generations. It has embarked on a thirty year clean-up programme that will cost the taxpayer at least £2.7 billion.

Plans for new reactors there would be bound to ignite widespread controversy.

‘‘This crazy plan just shows that the Labour Government can’t be trusted,’’ said SNP leader Alex Salmond. ‘‘On Trident and energy, it seems that Scotland is the home of the Prime Minister’s nuclear ambitions.’]

Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, described the idea of siting a new nuclear station at Dounreay as the "the height of environmental and political stupidity".

He said: “The idea smacks of a London-centric politics we’d all hopedhad long been confined to the history books. We would hope that Scotland's political elite treats the idea with the contempt it deserves."

McTernan downplayed his remarks by saying that he was joking about Dounreay, but that his comment was part of a general discussion on winning votes off the LibDems.

"I did not say it as a policy proposal," he said. "I met with the special advisers in mid-August about ways the Labour Government could help win seats in Scotland by using reserved powers to support Labour Ministers, not the LibDems."

A spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats said McTernan’s comments proved Labour was running scared:

“After the Liberal Democrats very strong performance in the general election, it is clear that Labour now regard us as a major threat. If the Labour Party thinks that imposing foundation hospitals and nuclear power stations on Scotland is the way to counter our progress, then good luck to them.”

02 October 2005

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