Saturday, October 29, 2005

N-power is renewable, Sainsbury tells Lords / World / UK - N-power is renewable, Sainsbury tells Lords

By Jean Eaglesham,UK Business Editor
Published: October 29 2005 03:00 | Last updated: October 29 2005 03:00

Nuclear power is a renewable source of energy and new stations are needed if Britain is to make headway in cutting greenhouse gases over the next 15 years, the science minister has asserted.


Lord Sainsbury's contentious comments are the strongest signal yet the government intends to commit to replacing ageing nuclear power stations in next year's energy policy review.

The energy minister also said it would be "very optimistic" to believe the government could meet its target of generating 20 per cent of electricity from wind, wave and solar power and other non-nuclear renewable sources by 2020. Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth are promoting renewables and increased energy efficiency as an alternative to building new nuclear power stations.

But Lord Sainsbury told the House of Lords that anyone who cared about climate change had to consider that nuclear power did not produce the carbon dioxide emissions that are a prime cause of global warming. There was a "key and simple argument which the energy review will have to consider," peers were told.

"If we run down nuclear power stations, by 2020 we take out 20 per cent of our clean energy sources. If you are very optimistic - you would have to be very optimistic - you might get renewables to 20 per cent [by that date]. But that would simply mean we have gone 20 years without making any impact on our emissions," Lord Sainsbury said. "If you care about climate change, you have to ask yourself whether that is an acceptable situation or whether you should bring in nuclear."

Concerns about the cost and acceptability of nuclear waste would have to be resolved before any commitment could be given to building new nuclear power stations. Such a commitment would be preceded by the "fullest public consultation" and a white paper setting out the proposals in detail.

The Conservatives said the comments were "part of a softening-up exercise" ahead of a decision next year that could face significant public hostility. Bernard Jenkin, shadow energy minister, backed ministers' increasingly pro-nuclear stance but said: "The government don't seem to recognise the urgency of making a decision [created by] the time lag on nuclear construction." He called on the government to legislate to allow the fast-tracking of the regulatory and planning approvals needed for new reactors.

The government's short-term energy policy has also come under fire from the Tories. Mr Jenkin wrote to Alan Johnson, trade and industry secretary, claiming ministers' "contradictory statements and complacency" about potential gas shortages this winter were "creating exactly the kind of panic atmosphere we must surely seek to avoid".

The letter cites assurances given to MPs by Geoff Hoon, leader of the Commons. Asked this week if ministers could "guarantee energy supplies to business and domestic consumers this winter," Mr Hoon said: "Yes they can and we are looking at this matter very carefully. Obviously that will depend on the nature of this winter's weather but we are prepared for all contingencies."

The answer contradicts recent statements from Mr Johnson and Malcolm Wicks, energy minister, who have said business could face power cuts. Mr Wicks told the FT he had no idea how bad gas shortages might be but said there was no threat to domestic supplies.


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