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Nuclear power: Has Commons majority, but no ministers on side

The argument will also be made that the likely target of Britain's next-gen nukes is no longer Russia, whose powerful air defences cruise missiles (simply robot aeroplanes, after all) might struggle to penetrate. Rather, nations on the order of North Korea, Iran and so on would be in the frame. Though Russian air-defence kit is slowly proliferating to such customers, they are for now vulnerable to cruise missile strikes and as such can be effectively deterred by the prospect of nuclear-tipped ones.

Overall, in the cash-strapped climate to be expected in the new Parliament, you have to say that cancellation of a full Trident replacement now looks quite likely.

On the matter of new nuclear power, the situation is much less clear. Again, both Labour and Tories are formally committed to new stations and the Lib Dems are against. But the Lib Dems now control the relevant ministries, with Chris Huhne in charge of Environment and Climate Change and Vince Cable at Business, and the new LibCon agreement doesn't bind them to support Tory policy on nuclear power.

Getting new nuclear power stations built is supposed to be a matter for the market - for companies such as French nuke giant EDF, for instance. On the face of it the business case is clear; if new UK nuclear power stations can be built at the same costs EDF pays to build them in France, it will make money.

But in France the building of nuclear power stations is an established thing and firmly backed by the government. In the UK, by contrast, opposition is vociferous and acts through both legal and illegal channels. With potentially hostile politicians now controlling the relevant ministries, UK nuclear power may no longer look such an attractive investment. This is particularly so as some of nuclear power's strongest British backers - the industrial unions - have now lost much of their clout in Parliament and Whitehall following the ousting of Labour.

The disappearance of nuclear power would be almost certain to result in the UK failing to achieve its desired carbon-emissions targets, but nuclear power will not disappear in the next five years. Cable and Huhne can safely play a spoiling game against new stations - probably without any need for a Commons vote where union-backed Labour MPs might join the Tories against them - and avoid taking any flak for rising carbon output after they change jobs, while gaining prestige within their own party meanwhile.

Not a good day for EDF and new nuclear, then. It might well have been worse, though - a LibLab alliance would have given still greater clout to the Liberals, and to other antinuclear parties too.

Unsurprisingly EDF stock fell by two Euros following the election results last week (wiping 5 per cent off the company's value) and took another wild plunge on Monday when it appeared that a LibLab pact might be on the cards - though that second dip was wiped out following David Cameron's eventual move into No. 10. ®

Updated to Add

Following the release of the full text of the Lib-Con pact, it is clear that in fact there will be a Commons vote on new nuclear power stations at which the Lib Dems will speak against, but abstain. The Tories intend to vote in favour, which should carry the issue.

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