Today the British government formally announced that it has approved 10 sites in England and Wales for new nuclear power stations, but none in either Scotland or Northern Ireland. The absence of Scotland is explainable, as the SNP government is opposed. But why is Northern Ireland excluded?
In the past such an exclusion would have seemed normal, as the security of such a high-profile economic target would have placed enormous burdens on the police and British army. But in 2009 such considerations have less validity.
The exclusion of Northern Ireland was originally signalled by Peter Hain, then British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in 2006 (nuclear energy is a reserved matter – i.e. power over it was kept in Westminster, and not transferred to Stormont). His reasoning was interesting, to say the least:
"There are no plans to build any nuclear power stations in Northern Ireland - that is the view I have taken as secretary of state. It's also part of an understanding we have with the Irish government, who are opposed to any new nuclear build on the whole island of Ireland. That means that we have to go very strongly and progressively for green, clean, renewable energy, which is what we will be doing."
That the Dublin government has a veto on the building of nuclear power stations in Northern Ireland should ring alarm bells for unionists. Surely, they might argue, such matters are of no concern for Dublin – but obviously London thinks that such issues are very much Dublin’s concern. Why? Could it be that nuclear power stations are by nature very long-term investments, and may still be operating in 50 years?
Perhaps London’s decision on nuclear energy in Northern Ireland was taken in the expectation that long before any nuclear power station would have re-paid its investment, it would have new owners?