Blair to unveil 'nuclear option'

Tony Blair is likely to use a speech to business leaders at the CBI to launch a review of UK energy policy which could lead to new nuclear power stations.

Mr Blair is believed to view nuclear power as a way to improve the security of the UK's energy supply and also help the UK meet its greenhouse gas targets.

He has also said ministers must make "difficult and controversial" choices.

The energy review will be headed by the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks and report by the middle of next year.

Business leaders want a decision made quickly, while green groups want clean and safe alternatives to fossil fuels.

Weather warning

The prime minister is expected to announce the terms of reference for the energy review during his speech to the Confederation of British Industry annual conference in London.

Last week Mr Blair said a debate was needed because by 2020 the amount of energy from nuclear power would fall from just over 20% to 4%, and trying to meet that shortfall through renewable sources was "going to be difficult".

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the prime minister had been convinced building more nuclear power stations was the only way to meet the country's energy needs and stick to the targets on climate change.

Also last week Mr Blair's chief scientific adviser Sir David King publicly called for the government to give the green light for new nuclear power stations.

Any moves to do so would provoke strong opposition from some Labour MPs.

Ex-environment minister Michael Meacher said at prime minister's questions he preferred a steady increase in renewable energy, saying nuclear power was expensive, a terrorist target and produced hazardous waste.

And David Willetts, the shadow trade and industry secretary, criticised the review's timing.

"A leak from the DTI in May showed that civil servants were calling on the government to start an energy review, but it has taken them seven months and an energy crisis to get things rolling," he said.

'Rubber stamp'

Norman Baker, the Lib Dems environment spokesman, said: "The suspicion must be that Tony Blair has already decided to advocate an increase in the use of nuclear power - this review will serve little purpose if the prime minister has already made up his mind.

He called for an extension of nuclear power to be ruled out and for the focus to be on cleaner renewable energy.

Environmentalists Friends of the Earth said the government's energy review should not rubber stamp a new generation of nuclear power stations.

They argue a programme to reduce electricity waste, be more efficient with fossil fuels and increase renewable energy use will help the UK meet its targets for cutting greenhouse gases while maintaining fuel security.

The group wants to meet Mr Blair to discuss other options which it says will reduce carbon dioxide levels.

Lights 'on'

"The UK can meet its targets for tackling climate change and maintain fuel security by using clean, safe alternatives that are already available," says Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth.

"The UK could be a world leader in developing a low-carbon nuclear-free economy."

The debate over nuclear power comes amid the recent sharp increase in the price of gas, and CBI warnings a possible energy crisis could reduce Britain to a three-day week this winter.

However, Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson insisted the lights across Britain would not go out this winter "under any scenario whatsoever".

Zdroj: BBC

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