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More Haste is needed

Comment

Let's clear one thing up first.

Norman Haste's decision to step down as chief executive of Crossrail is not a sign that the £8bn underground rail project is in trouble.

his information comes unequivocally from the Crossrail project this week. The decision, I am assured, had been discussed and planned for months and is simply part of the project's natural evolution.

Business as usual, I must also point out, means that over the next two years, Parliament will scrutinise the Crossrail bill so that, given a fair wind, Royal Assent will be granted by the spring of 2007. Once the small matter of fi nancing is organised, the long awaited tunnel construction beneath London will then begin - without Haste at the helm.

Which is, of course, a shame for the former BAA Terminal 5 boss who only turned 60 last year. He has, by all accounts, got plenty of construction left in him and if the project's timescale is to be believed, could at the least have kicked off the job, if not seen it through to completion.

But there you go, it was not to be. No doubt his successor will soon be revealed and we will be shown just how straightforward the Crossrail approval process really is. And now that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link team has demonstrated to the government and City investors that modern tunnelling is no longer a risky process, Haste's successor will surely have little trouble pulling together the £8bn needed.

So having straightened that out, apparently the smart thing to do is to talk about nuclear power. Why- What is to be said that hasn't already been said?

Well, today the Queen's Speech sets out the government's priorities for the coming legislative year. While energy policy fails to make it directly into the list of planned legislation, it is almost certain that nuclear power will feature in the sidebars of this term.

Whether it will be as an aside to the natural environment and rural communities bill, or as part of Tony Blair's general campaign to tackle climate change, remains unclear. But what is obvious from pre and post election gossip is that Tony Blair has a desire to convince his new cabinet of the vital part nuclear power will have to have in the UK's energy generation future.

In this, his G8 summitchairing year, he seems to have decided that for all the drawbacks - including £50bn recently committed to decommissioning existing stock - nuclear power does offer a very real option to reduce CO 2 emissions.

Perhaps Blair has also been listening to the engineering community. The ICE seems set to fall squarely behind a nuclear energy future in its annual State of the Nation report in October.

To build or not to build new nuclear power capacity does, after all, represent a big decision that could actually make a difference.

Norman Haste, of course, knows a thing or two about nuclear power stations, having built Sizewell B, the newest - and soon to be only - nuclear facility in the UK. But, more than anyone, he will appreciate that to get the next one up and running will not happen overnight Will it take longer than Heathrow's T5 in the planning- Probably. Longer than Crossrail?

Who knows, maybe Haste has another nuclear power station in him. Whatever, I cannot help but feel that construction of a new nuclear power station in the UK is starting to look more likely than Crossrail.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor.

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