Committee rejects nuclear option

CAMPAIGNERS last night called for the Government to abandon plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations - including a Sizewell C - after an influential committee of MPs concluded it was not the best way forward.

By David Green

CAMPAIGNERS last night called for the Government to abandon plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations - including a Sizewell C - after an influential committee of MPs concluded it was not the best way forward.

A report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by Suffolk South MP Tim Yeo, ruled out nuclear as a short-term response to climate change and posed serious question marks over its medium and long term role.

Its report, Keeping The Lights On: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change, was welcomed last night by environment campaigners who fear a £3 billion Sizewell C power station on the Suffolk coast is on the Government's agenda.

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It is the second high-level body blow to hit the nuclear industry within weeks, published in the wake of concern about a new nuclear building programme expressed by the Government's own Sustainable Development Commission.

The Government is currently undertaking a review of energy policy and has made clear that nuclear is an option.

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By 2016 about 25% of all the UK's existing power stations - nuclear and fossil fuel - will have reached the end of their operating lives.

Over the same period and beyond, the Government needs to reduce the emission of global warming gases to meet its own targets and those cited in international agreements.

The electricity generating sector produces about one-third of total UK global warming emissions.

Keeping The Lights On recommends further gas-fired electricity generating power stations be built over the next 10 years to fill the “energy gap” and that the Government puts more effort into encouraging the development of renewable energy technologies.

It points out that nuclear cannot help in the short term, because no new plants could be up and running within 10 years.

However, any role in the longer term would be subject to resolution of a variety of issues - including radioactive waste disposal, public acceptability and availability of uranium fuel.

“There are also serious concerns relating to safety, the threat of terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear power across the world,” the report says.

It suggests that a Government decision to support a major programme of new nuclear power stations will have a detrimental impact on investment in energy efficiency, renewables and technologies aimed at capturing and storing carbon emissions.

The report also calls for greater Government commitment to implement the Energy White Paper published three years ago which identified energy efficiency and conservation as the cornerstones of future sustainable energy policy.

Mr Yeo, a Tory Government environment minister in the early 1990s, said: “We are concerned with the Government's focus on nuclear power and the nature of any decision on nuclear. We do not think that it is necessarily the answer.

“The Government must be far more imaginative in pursuing the twin goals of the White Paper - energy efficiency and renewables. The last three years have been something of a wasted opportunity.”

Mary Edwards, East Anglia spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said: “The Government should now drop any attempt at a new nuclear programme and concentrate on renewable technologies which offer the real way forward.”

Charles Barnett, chairman of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, said: “The Government must now abandon its nuclear intentions. Nuclear power stations are likely targets for terrorist attack and are not safe. Money spent on this expensive, outdated technology will starve funds desperately needed for renewables and energy conservation.”

But Martin Pearce, spokesman for British Energy, which operates Sizewell B, said: “We believe nuclear has a role to play in providing a balance of energy sources.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: “We welcome the committee's carefully considered report and will give serious consideration to its recommendations and helpful input to the energy review.”

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