Monday, October 31, 2005

Nuclear option is at least 20 years away

Utilities, Utility news, Times Online

By Angela Jameson, Industrial Correspondent

BRITAIN will not benefit from a new fleet of nuclear power stations until 2025 at the earliest, even if the decision to begin building plants is taken next year.
Experts agree that each new power station will take at least ten years to build. Therefore to construct ten, even at a rate of one per year, would require a 20-year building programme.

In the meantime, household fuel bills and industry’s energy costs are likely to continue to rise steeply unless the Government acts to speed up the planning process.

Tony Blair has said that the Government will make a final decision on the nuclear issue next year and ministers appear to be softening their stance on the need for nuclear.

Companies that want to get involved in the expected multibillion-pound business are suggesting that the Government should follow America’s lead and introduce legislation to prevent new power stations being delayed during planning. The United States has changed its planning process to speed up construction of nuclear power stations and expects to cut the time from 15 years to seven.

People in the nuclear industry have told ministers that they should consider following next year’s energy White Paper with a Bill to shorten the inquiry process.

“The real issue is not the actual build — you can build a station in five years — it is the planning and consent process that is likely to hold things up. The public inquiry process can be very costly and drawn out, as we know from Terminal Five, which took ten to twelve years,” an industry insider said.

Sir Peter Mason, chief executive of Amec, the engineering group, which wants to build new generators, said: “While due democratic process must, of course, be respected, and everyone is entitled to have a say, we need to achieve this without totally derailing the progress of important projects and imposing substantial and potentially unrecoverable sunk costs on private-sector investors.”

Ian Fells, a leading adviser for the Government on energy issues, will tell a conference organised by a United Nations research institute in Italy next month that Britain risks falling behing on nuclear power.

“If we do not decide soon to go down the nuclear route, we will be so far behind the new build queue that it will be 25 years before we begin to see any benefit,” Professor Fells will tell the conference.

Professor Fells is also concerned that Britain no longer has the skills to build new nuclear power stations, because its nuclear programme has been in abeyance for so long.

“Being at the back of the queue is an issue. France, the US, China are all moving forward. We are urging Government to get a move on,” Philip Dewhurst, chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, said.


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