Thursday, February 23, 2006

Minister dismisses opponents of N-power as 'fundamentalists' News - Politics - Minister dismisses opponents of N-power as 'fundamentalists'

Key points• New nuclear power stations are distinct possibility, states minister • Scots politicians entitled to their view but Wicks wants a "grown-up debate"• Comments may produce similar Westminster/Holyrood tensions as those over transport policy
Key quote"There are a lot of people saying No, No, No to this, but people have to make a judgment about where they want the energy to come from." - Malcolm Wicks, UK energy minister
Story in full
SCOTLAND should grow up and accept the possibility of new nuclear power stations north of the Border, Malcolm Wicks, the UK energy minister, has said.
In an interview with The Scotsman, he risked straining relations within the Scottish Executive coalition by appearing to brand Scottish Liberal Democrats, who implacably oppose nuclear power, "environmental fundamentalists".
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has been softening his stance on nuclear power, despite pressure from his Lib Dem partners. Last month he refused to rule out the possibility of new nuclear stations in Scotland.
The First Minister has the power to use planning rules to block any new nuclear plants proposed in Scotland as part of an energy review Mr Wicks is carrying out.
With ministers in London, who have control of UK energy policy, increasingly convinced that new nuclear reactors must be part of the country's future energy system, there is growing frustration at Scotland's resistance.
Mr Wicks said he is "neutral" on nuclear power, but made clear he thinks no-one - Scottish ministers included - should automatically rule out atomic power.
He did not criticise Mr McConnell, insisting Scottish Labour leaders were "entitled" to their view, but made clear his frustration at the tone of Scottish political debate about energy policy.
"It would be foolish of a nation not to have a mature debate about it, a grown-up debate," Mr Wicks said.
"What I mean by a mature debate is not that every one agrees with me, but I think that minds should be open on this."
Mr Wicks's remarks follow tensions between Westminster and Holyrood over transport policy. A public dispute between Mr McConnell and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, contributed to Labour's disastrous by-election loss in Dunfermline and West Fife this month.
The energy review, scheduled to be completed this summer, comes from the government's twin targets of cutting Britain's dependence on imported power sources - particularly Russian gas - and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
"Our paramount concern [is] to have an energy supply which is clean, and nuclear is a clean source of energy," Mr Wicks said, suggesting that many opponents of atomic power were not realistic.
Mr Wicks will visit Edinburgh and Fife today and tour a wave power project, but in the interview in London yesterday he made clear that such renewable sources cannot meet all of Britain's future energy needs, meaning nuclear power must be an option.
"Even if we really push ahead with renewables plus bearing down on energy efficiency, some people think that adds up to a solution. I think it adds up to a chunk of the solution," he said.
In a veiled attack on Scottish Liberal Democrats and other anti-nuclear groups, the minister pointed to Germany's plans to shut down nuclear power plants, a move he said would mean more carbon emissions. "I would at least hope that the environmental fundamentalists would look at that fact and think through the implications," he said.
Asked to identify those "fundamentalists", he said: "I mean people who are so committed to the environmental agenda but who imagine that the answer can be windmills and some tidal power and some solar power and some recycling."
Britain's nuclear power plants are nearing the end of their working lives, leaving ministers to choose whether to encourage the construction of new facilities.
Mr Wicks's review will be presented to Tony Blair in the summer. The Prime Minister is believed to have accepted that Britain must have some nuclear power.
"There are a lot of people saying No, No, No to this, but people have to make a judgment about where they want the energy to come from," Mr Wicks said.
Mr Wicks will meet Scottish ministers in Edinburgh today to discuss energy policy. An Executive spokesman last night said Scottish ministers would "make a contribution" to the review.
Unlikely revival of fuel that has cleaned up its act
MORE than two decades after Margaret Thatcher's battle with the miners, the British coal industry could be set for a surprise comeback.
Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, yesterday said coal, and particularly coal mined in Britain, will play a key role in our future energy mix. Keen to cut Britain's dependence on imported gas, much of which comes from Russia, Mr Wicks signalled that so-called clean coal has a big future.
"Carbon capture" technology allows coal to be burned, but emit much less carbon dioxide than in the past, and Mr Wicks said this could lead to an increase in British coal production.
There are only 42 opencast sites and eight major deep mines still in production, but there are some signs of recovery: Richard Budge, the former head of UK Coal, is trying to raise £35 million from a stock market flotation to reopen the Hatfield deep mine in Yorkshire.
Mr Wicks suggested that the coal from British mines should be used in new cleaner power stations to test the technology.
"I would like to see one or two major developments in Britain using British coal plus clean coal technology," he said. "My instinct is that it would be sensible for us to be producing more of our own energy, home-growing our own energy."
Some analysts predict coal is set to become world's most popular energy source, accounting for up to 40 per cent of global power generation.
"Whatever the most fierce environmentalists may say and wish, the world is going to be burning lots of carbon, particularly loads and loads of coal, for 100, 200 years to come. The environmentalists may not like that but tough, it's going to happen," Mr Wicks said.
Since coal will remain an important fuel, he said, Britain should lead work to make it more environmentally friendly.
"In the UK, we've been pretty good at energy - look at Aberdeen," he said. "Why shouldn't we be equally good at some of these emerging technologies?"
THE energy minister yesterday made an outspoken attack on gas-powered patio heaters, calling the devices "environmental obscenities".
Gas heaters have become a common sight outside pubs and in private gardens. But with some figures showing a single heater produces more than a small car, they are the target of a growing political backlash.
Malcolm Wicks told The Scotsman people who used the devices should "go inside, wear a jumper, get a life".
MANUFACTURERS could be forced to remove standby settings from televisions and other electronic devices to save energy, the energy minister said yesterday.
Government figures show that household electronics on standby consume two power stations' output every year.
"A poor little innocent button on your TV, but it epitomises the challenge we've got with global warming," Malcolm Wicks said. "There's far more we could do and if necessary make manufacturers do."


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