Not on your Nelly! Nuclear white elephant to visit the Lib Dem conference

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  By Lynda Williamson

Environmental activists from Friends of the Earth will campaign outside the Lib Dem UK party conference this Sunday alongside a giant white elephant named Nelly in a bid to highlight their opposition to gas and nuclear power. 

They also hope to encourage the Lib Dems not to turn their back on promises to put pressure on their tory coalition partners to become the “greenest government ever”.

The Lib Dem Party has a long history of opposition to new generation of nuclear power stations but they are now preparing to debate whether to perform another U-turn on long standing party policy.  Conference will debate a motion entitled Green Growth and Green Jobs with the option of:

“Accepting that in future, nuclear power stations could play a limited role in electricity supply, provided concerns about safety, disposal of radioactive waste and cost (including decommissioning) are adequately addressed and without allowing any subsidy for new build.”

Campaigners point out that government plans to construct an underground nuclear waste depository were scuppered last January when Cumbria, the last council to express initial interest in hosting the facility, pulled out of the process.

Concerns over safety of nuclear facilities remain high following the Fukushima disaster and it is unlikely that any private firm would agree to build a nuclear power station without some degree of public subsidy.  Westminster’s Energy Bill is set to pave the way to provide nuclear subsidies through customer energy bills.

Delegates are also set to debate:

“Permitting limited shale gas extraction, ensuring that regulations controlling pollution and protecting local environmental quality are strictly enforced, planning decisions remain with local authorities and local communities are fully consulted over extraction and fully compensated for all damage to the local landscape.”

The Australian government of New South Wales has recently banned all unconventional gas extraction within 2km of residential areas and the experience of the shale gas revolution in America has shown that investment in renewables plummets in the face of unconventional gas extraction.  Concerns remain over the environmental impact of the unconventional gas industry.  At their spring conference Scottish Liberal Democrats passed a motion against fracking.

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland said:

“The LibDems were supposed to be keeping the Coalition on track to be the ‘greenest government ever’.  It is incredible that they could think that supporting new nuclear reactors and dirty gas could be the way to do this.

“Scottish Lib Dems must be embarrassed that the UK conference in Glasgow is kicking off with a motion so out of kilter with their own views on energy and climate change.  The LibDems could be the greenest of the big parties in Westminster but they will lose all credibility if they do not turn this energy motion around.”

Later in the week delegates will also debate whether to change their stance on the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons system to support a like-for-like replacement but with fewer submarines.  This proposal would involve the continued presence of nuclear weapons on the Clyde.

The SNP has pointed out that the Liberal Democrat Party have a track record of reneging on previous commitments with much being made of their promise not to increase tuition fees before the 2010 Westminster election.  Once in power they went on to increase the limit on fees to £9000 per year.

Commenting, SNP MSP Bill Kidd said:

“During their time in office the LibDems have become the party of U-turns and broken promises, and true to form they’re preparing to scrap another pledge at their conference today.

“Having consistently set out their stall opposing new nuclear energy, they will today debate plans to back a new generation of the horrendously expensive white elephants.

“Backing new nuclear energy can only be done at appalling cost and at the expense of renewable energy – the last thing that Scotland needs if we are to fully harness our enormous renewables potential.

“As if planning a controversial U-turn on nuclear energy wasn’t bad enough, this conference will also see them become cheerleaders for a new generation of nuclear weapons – despite their conference being held just a matter of miles from the home of the UK’s weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde.

“It is no wonder that a recent opinion poll found that people in Scotland gave Nick Clegg an approval rating of minus 53% – compared to Alex Salmond’s rating of plus 11%.

“After previous betrayals on issues like tuition fees south of the border, the LibDems only have themselves to blame for becoming a party that people simply cannot trust.”

Nelly the white elephant will be near the SECC Glasgow from 9am until 1.30pm on Sunday 15th September.