Battle over nuclear power set to begin

PRIME Minister Tony Blair left the door open for a new generation of nuclear power plants yesterday as he announced a fresh energy review - raising the prospect of a third reactor at Sizewell in Suffolk.

PRIME Minister Tony Blair left the door open for a new generation of nuclear power plants yesterday as he announced a fresh energy review - raising the prospect of a third reactor at Sizewell in Suffolk.

He said the Government was aiming to publish a policy statement on energy early next summer, and it would include whether they should facilitate the development of new power stations.

Although a spokesman for British Energy said it currently has no specific plans for building a power station at the Suffolk coastal location, it is believed it would be the “number one site” if nuclear building programmes restart.

This is supported by the fact there is land at Sizewell which was previously earmarked for a C reactor - before the controversial plans were shelved in the mid-1990s. Another site which may be looked at is Bradwell, in Essex.

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Protestors are now pledging to renew their fight against any change in energy policy that could bring a new nuclear era to East Anglia.

Martin Pearce, spokesman for British Energy in the southern area, said: “We obviously welcome the fact that the Government is to look at nuclear in the review. As a company we will be taking an active part in the debate, as will a lot of people.”

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He said the company would keep running Sizewell B, which has a life span until 2035 and produces 3% of the UK's energy, as effectively as it could. Meanwhile, Sizewell A is due to start decommissioning in 2006.

British Energy announced its intention in 2001 to build 10 new nuclear power stations in the country and, if they were ever given the go-ahead, it said the most suitable locations would be at existing nuclear sites. But since then the company has gone through a troubled financial period.

Asked whether Sizewell would be among the first sites to be considered for a new power station, on the land once set aside for a new nuclear station, Mr Pearce said it had “no specific plans” as yet.

He said: “There is land there and land that we own. At the moment we do not have plans for a new-build - a lot of that hinges on the energy review next year. It is a decision the Government will make.”

Conservative Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said last night he was very much in favour of looking at alternative energy sources and for “revolutionary changes in energy”.

The country needs to increase its use of renewable fuels and save energy but Mr Gummer said: “Even if we do these two things, which are very vital and I do not think you can avoid them, we need in the interim more nuclear power.”

He added that he thought any building of new power stations would see Sizewell developed first.

“We can't do without a replacement of the ones we are closing down. I am in favour of Sizewell C and I think that should be started as Sizewell A is closing down.”

Charles Barnett, chair of the Shutdown Sizewell Campaign and long-standing opponent of Suffolk's nuclear power stations, also said he was sure Sizewell was the “number one site”.

But he said communities had united to fight the prospect of a Sizewell C in the 1990s and they would again, with his organisation renewing their efforts.

“It's absolute madness to contemplate any more nuclear power. If, as we suspect, the Government is trying to arrange or rig this review it will mean Sizewell C will be on the cards for the Sizewell site.

“I feel let down by Mr Blair and what he is trying to do. There's a terrible sense that this is a fait accompli but it will not be a fait accompli as local communities are not going to wear it as they rightly fear it.”

Meanwhile, the recent report produced by Nirex, the Government's research body, on the risk of erosion at Sizewell showed it was not an appropriate site, he added.

“It's rather lamentable that after the first energy review three years ago, which came down decisively on renewable energy coupled with energy efficiency and energy conservation, that the Government is now going to ride rough-shod over it,” he said.

“The more money - billions of pounds - is wasted on nuclear energy that means less money available for non-polluting renewable sources of energy.”

Across the border in Essex, people living near the decommissioned Bradwell Power Station would rather have a brand new nuclear power station on their doorstep than a proposed windfarm, a councillor claimed last night.

Richard Dewick, Maldon District Council member for Tillingham, said: “Obviously the existing Bradwell Power Station is not going to be reopened. It will be cleared in the fullness of time.

“As for another nuclear power station at Bradwell, well I honestly do not know. But it has always been suggested that the estuary of the Blackwater is not large enough to cope with a modern station.

“Having said that, from the people I've spoken to the feeling is that, on the whole, they would much rather have another nuclear power station than a windfarm.

“There is a perceived risk and some people are concerned about that but the existing station has been here for 40 years and it has been a good neighbour that has brought jobs and money into the area.”

Nobody from Bradwell Power Station was available for comment yesterday.

Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, said: “EDF Energy believes that a diverse mix of energy is the key to security of supply for the UK in the longer term. As part of that diverse mix, we believe that new nuclear and more renewables should play their part alongside clean coal, gas and energy savings measures.”

Mr Blair's speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference yesterday was delayed and moved to a smaller room after Greenpeace protesters climbed up inside the roof of the hall he had been due to use and threatened to heckle and disrupt the premier.

Mr Blair finally delivered his address to delegates 48 minutes late as they crowded into a nearby room, and, speaking from a hastily-erected podium, confirmed details of the energy review.

He said: “I can today announce that we have established a review of the UK's progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals.

“The Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks will be in the lead, with the aim of publishing a policy statement on energy in the early summer of 2006.

“It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations.”

The two protesters, named by Greenpeace as Huw Williams and Nyls Verhauelt, were said by the organisation to have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and taken to a police station.

A Greenpeace spokeswoman said: “We are launching the fightback against a new nuclear era in the UK by trying to prevent Tony Blair from giving his planned speech at the conference.”

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