Monday, January 23, 2006

U.K. opens debate on nuclear power

U.K. opens debate on nuclear power

LONDON, England (UPI) -- The British government launched a consultation on whether to build a new generation of nuclear power stations Monday; but critics said the review was simply a smokescreen for a decision that had already been taken.
Ministers cited recent rises in energy prices and concerns over security as reasons for the renewed interest in the nuclear option, which comes just three years after officials concluded that replacing Britain`s ageing plants would be too expensive.
Speaking at the launch of the three-month consultation, Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said the decision whether to invest in nuclear energy could no longer be delayed.
'In a world of heightened concerns about energy security, highlighted by the recent dispute between Russia and the Ukraine, we need to look carefully at the risks of this new situation,' he said.
By 2020, the coal and nuclear power plants generating some 30 percent of Britain`s electricity were expected to have closed, Johnson said. Decisions had to be taken on how to replace this capacity, he continued, asking: 'If gas, as well as renewables, were to fill the gap, how comfortable will we be relying on imports for 80 percent of our supplies?'
But opposition parties and environmental campaigners said the review was intended to do nothing more than justify Prime Minister Tony Blair`s opinion that nuclear energy was the best option.
Media reports have suggested Blair has already made up his mind on the issue; a claim Downing Street has denied.
Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary Norman Baker said this was an energy review 'without a purpose.'
'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.
Britain could have an energy mix that both kept the lights on and secured supply without having to resort to nuclear power, he added.
Greenpeace Director Stephen Tindale said the review was 'a spin operation for nuclear power, a form of electricity generation that is the most expensive way to boil water ever devised.'
'The U.K. has an electricity grid designed seventy years ago that wastes most of the fuel we put into it,' he said. 'What we need is an energy revolution, a grid that lets renewable schemes and energy efficiency measures meet their full potential.'
Britain`s grid wasted enough energy to heat all the buildings and water in the country, Tindale continued.
'A new generation of nuclear power stations would cement this system in place, preventing the development of a decentralized grid and stifling renewable energy generation,' he said.
Nuclear power plants were also highly vulnerable to terrorist attack, he argued.
At the time of the government`s previous energy White Paper in 2003, ministers such as then Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt dismissed the nuclear option as unviable.
'There are real problems with nuclear power. The economics are not at all attractive at the moment... and of course there are huge problems with radioactive waste,' she said in February 2003.
Building a new generation of nuclear power stations would guarantee that the necessary investment in energy efficiency and renewables was not made, she added.
However the new consultation paved for the way for a U-turn, saying: 'The review will examine whether recent changes in energy prices have changed that assessment and at the other issues that would be raised by building new nuclear power stations.'

But Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, insisted there were no practical obstacles to a new generation of nuclear power.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, he said: 'Some people suggest it`s all so complicated economically; it will cost so much; there are all sorts of difficulties about waste; that markets will not go anywhere near this. My judgment is they are dead wrong. A lot of major companies are very interested in investing in nuclear.'
Wicks said he could not understand the idea that investment in nuclear would negate the commitment to renewables. 'The environmental lobby should at least consider the possibility that the most effective way for energy supply to help us through climate change is nuclear, rather than somehow thinking being green is anti-nuclear.'
However he insisted the decision to go nuclear had not already been taken. The government was 'nuclear-neutral,' he said.
Copyright 2006 by United Press International


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