The Labour Party was returned to government in the general election of 5 May for Tony Blair’s third term as UK prime minister. The importance of energy policy in coming years was highlighted by the renaming of a department and creation of a ministerial post.

The nuclear industry and energy matters previously came under the remit of Patricia Hewitt at the Department for Trade and Industry. The department has now been renamed the Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry (DPEI) and will be led by Alan Johnson who has worked in trade and industry roles, as well as education and employment.

Hewitt, who admitted in parliament to not reading NEI, is now Secretary of State for Health. Mike O’Brien, whose remit under Hewitt included energy has been made Solicitor General.

The inclusion of the word energy in the new department’s title is seen as significant, as is the creation of the specific role of Minister for Energy. Holding the new role is Malcolm Wicks, whose voting record shows him to be a loyal Blair supporter. Joan MacNaughton will work alongside Wicks as director general of energy policy.

A briefing paper written by MacNaughton and presented to Johnson on his first day at the DPEI was leaked to The Observer newspaper. It states that the government must soon ‘come off the fence’ on nuclear policy and that the DPEI must work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Treasury and Number 10 to move towards making a statement on climate change and energy before the summer recess. MacNaughton urged Johnson to take ‘ownership’ of the issue.

However, environment secretary Margaret Beckett is known to be opposed to new nuclear build chiefly on the grounds of uncertainty over waste disposal. Her department’s crucial Climate Change Programme Review effectively ignores any contribution nuclear could make.

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