A string of secret emails has revealed how the nuclear energy chief at the Department of Energy and Climate Change colluded with utility company bosses to manipulate the message of the withdrawal of new nuclear power plant build in the UK.
The letters, marked “strictly private and confidential” and released following a Freedom of Information request, show how the DECC chief coaxed RWE nPower and E.ON executives into defending the Government's policy on nuclear energy.
The email exchange took place before the official announcement on March 29 that RWE nPower and E.ON were abandoning the Horizon Nuclear Power project and scrapping plans to build new reactors at sites in Oldbury, Gloucestershire, and Wylfa, Anglesey.
At the time, both companies blamed financial uncertainty and Germany’s decision to phase out all nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in Japan.
But in one message dated March 27 from Hergen Haye, head of New Nuclear at DECC, to the operators of Horizon, he primes the energy industry executives to find a suitable answer to the question “Could the UK Gov done something differently which would have prevented your decision?”
In its reply on March 28, E.ON suggested publishing the defence: “Our decision is based on the position of our respective companies and the impact of intervening events since we first formed our Horizon joint venture together and is not a reflection on the work done by the UK Government.”
The proposed statement was never actually released but exposes the cosy relationship between DECC and the energy giants and the behind-the-scenes manipulation of their joint PR machine.
The revelations come a day after Energy Secretary Ed Davey stalled on publishing details of the revised framework for the Renewable Obligation Certificate, a delay which green energy leaders criticised for causing further industry confusion and investor uncertainty.
In one March 27 email exchange between DECC and E.ON and RWE nPower, the senior civil servant clears the companies' intended messages, saying: “Your press statements look broadly fine."
The DECC chief's message asks for warning of official notification the following day “in order for us to share our press lines to co-ordinate a united message”.
The message, timed at 5.36pm on the day before the official announcement, added: “Also, we have been thinking of some difficult/defensive line issues and would be grateful for sight on what you might say.”
DECC's secret list of awkward questions, included:
* Why are you exiting nuclear new build in the UK but not Finland?
* Do you think it is possible for new nuclear to be build[sic] in the UK?
* Could the UK Gov done something differently which would have prevented your decision?
In its reply, RWE nPower refuses to support the UK Government question and stated: “As you can see from the [proposed] press release, we are not making any comment on the UK policy position.”
Timings of the release of the pull-out decision are also discussed, with RWE nPower describing how it would inform the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, adding: “The intention is for this to be after the Greatrex call” - a reference to Shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex.
The week before these messages were written, DECC nuclear chief Hergen Haye – who also sits on the Government's Cobra emergency committee, appeared before the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee to deliver a remarkably robust defence of the safety of the nuclear energy industry.