Monday, November 28, 2005

Expect new nuclear reactors, says Beckett News - Politics - Expect new nuclear reactors, says Beckett

NEW nuclear reactors may have to be built to cut down on carbon emissions and secure the country's energy supply, Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, has conceded.

Mrs Beckett, who has previously opposed a revival of nuclear power, said she may have to "reluctantly" back a new generation of reactors and its price of extra toxic waste.

Her comments give the strongest signal yet that Tony Blair will make nuclear part of his review on energy, which he will unveil tomorrow.

Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser who is known to favour a resumption of nuclear power, has also reportedly suggested a levy on consumers' power bills to help fund a new generation of up to 20 power plants.

According to leaked transcripts of conversations he has had with nuclear industry representatives, Sir David believed that "getting 30 to 35 per cent of our power from nuclear would be probably optimal". This would be a 15 per cent rise in reliance on nuclear at a time when most of the nation's ageing reactors face decommissioning by 2015.

Interviewed on ITV 1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, Mrs Beckett said that nuclear energy was still unsustainable as it left a "legacy" in terms of toxic waste. "I don't think you can argue that it meets the definition of sustainability," she stressed.

"But that's a separate issue from saying, despite those enormous problems, you're driven to it by other considerations such as climate change and I've always accepted that could happen."

Mrs Beckett warned that the government had to assess carefully the costs and how to dispose safely of nuclear waste. Any moves towards nuclear must not result in a drop in investment in renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power, she added.

Liberal Democrats seized on the report from Sir David as evidence of the expense of nuclear power. Norman Baker, the Lib Dems' environment spokesman, said the government should invest any rise in energy costs in renewables instead.

The output from nuclear power is expected to meet just 4 per cent of Britain's electricity needs by 2010, as old power stations are decommissioned.

Although the government has said the industry would have to be self- financing, private investors will want to have the reassurance of the Treasury at least underwriting the insurance.

The Chancellor is cautious about making any such commitments, not least because he will have to sell the political hot potato of nuclear power to the public if he becomes Prime Minister.

Yesterday, Mrs Beckett appeared to rekindle the debate over the timing of Mr Blairr's departure. "It would be fair to whoever assumes the mantle of Prime Minister before the next election, to give that person a chance to settle in and make their own mark," she said.


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