Monday, January 23, 2006

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

By Sam Knight and PA news
Britain must decide this year whether or not to "open the door" to a new generation of nuclear power stations, the Government said today.
Launching a three-month public consultation to discuss the future of Britain's energy supply, the Trade and Industry Secretary, Alan Johnson, said that it was time to decide how to replace the waning coal-fired and nuclear power stations that supply up to 30 per cent of the country's energy needs.
With fuel prices increasing more quickly than expected and declining oil and gas reserves in the North Sea, Mr Johnson said the UK must decide whether to import up to 80 per cent of its energy supplies from abroad or to build new nuclear plants.
"I want the widest possible engagement in this vital debate. We need to look at the risks to security of supply, our climate change commitments and, to the long term, to make sure we take the necessary action," he said. "There is not a do-nothing option."
Mr Johnson said the recent gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine and the general concentration of oil and gas reserves in the Middle East and former Soviet republics had raised the fears of those concerned about Britain's reliance on imported energy.
"If gas, as well as renewables, were to fill the gap, how comfortable will we be relying on imports for 80 per cent of our supplies?" he asked.
On the question of nuclear power, which the Government's 2003 Energy White Paper described as a possible but "unattractive option" to solve Britain's energy needs, Mr Johnson said that the door had been left "ajar" two years ago.
"It is now the time look at whether we need to close the door or open the door and also look at developments since 2003," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Power stations that supply around a third of Britain's energy are due to close by 2020. According to today's consultation document, renewable energy sources that currently provide 3.6 per cent of the country's needs will supply 20 per cent by 2020, but a huge deficit will remain.
Tony Blair launched a wide-ranging review of Britain's energy policy in November. Although the Government remains officially neutral on the outcome of the review, opposition MPs and environmental campaigners say that Mr Blair is convinced that building new nuclear power stations is the only way to secure future energy demands.
As it emerged today that the Health and Safety Executive had been ordered to study health concerns surrounding Britain's power stations - and the implications of new nuclear plants - critics insisted that the Government had already made up its mind.
But Mr Johnson insisted that the Government was approaching today's consultation with an "open mind" and stressed that the answer to the nuclear question was just one of many elements in securing the right mix for Britain's energy supply.
The 80-page consultation document said increasingly efficient coal-burning power stations, expensive oil and new techniques for storing carbon emissions underground could lead to a possible resurgence for coal-fired energy.
Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister in charge of the Government's review, added that day-to-day electricity savings could also contribute to controlling Britain's energy demand. Energy worth around £740 million is squandered every year by domestic appliances needlessly left on, said Mr Wicks.
But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, accused the Government of window-dressing a decision that has already been made.
"This review is simply a retrospective way of justifying the Prime Minister’s wish to build a new generation of nuclear power stations, something the earlier white paper did not recommend," he said.
"TheGovernment is all too aware that the UK can have an energy mix which keeps the lights on and secures supply that does not include nuclear power."
Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said a new series of nuclear stations were unnecessary and that the answer to Britain's needs lay in increased efficiency and renewable energy.
"UK energy policy is at a crossroads," he said. "We can tackle climate change and meet our energy needs by cutting waste, harnessing the power of renewables and using fossil fuels more efficiently."
"The Government must set us on the path to a clean, safe and sustainable future and turn its back once and for all on the failed, dangerous and expensive experiment of nuclear power."
Greenpeace accused the Government of launching a "spin operation" rather than a substantive review of energy policy.
"The UK has an electricity grid designed 70 years ago that wastes most of the fuel we put into it. What we need is an energy revolution, a grid that lets renewable schemes and energy efficiency measures meet their full potential," said the group's executive director, Stephen Tindale.
"Instead the Government has launched a spin operation for nuclear power, a form of electricity generation that is the most expensive way to boil water ever devised."


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