New nuclear plants 'last resort' for Tories

New nuclear build would only be considered as a "last resort" under a Tory government, party leader David Cameron said on Thursday.

His comments came days before the results of the Energy Review are due, widely expected to endorse a new generation of nuclear power plants.

Although the Tories do not rule out replacing Britain's aging nuclear plants, renewables need to be given a "level playing field" with nuclear, David Cameron said.

"We want to give green energy a chance. That means no special favours or subsidies for nuclear power.

"Where the Government see nuclear power as the first choice, under our framework it would be a last resort. Where the Liberal Democrats rule out nuclear power, we rule out subsidies and special favours for nuclear power."

Speaking at the Local Government Association conference, David Cameron also said that "local councils have a vital part to play in delivering a low carbon future," and that it should be made easier for micro-generators to sell energy back to the national grid.

Environmental group Greenpeace called the comments "very encouraging." But Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said that the Tories' green credentials were "skin deep" and that they failed to rule out new nuclear build:

"Every nuclear power project in history, everywhere in the world, has required massive subsidies - often hidden in stealth taxes. New nuclear power would be no different.

"Given that modern nuclear plants would produce four times as much high level waste as previously, the only serious way to avoid this dangerous environmental legacy is to rule out an extension of nuclear now," he said.

Tony Blair again gave his backing to new nuclear plants this week when he said he had 'changed his mind' on the issue over the last three years, and now believes that investing in green energy and energy efficiency alone cannot guarantee energy security.

The Government is even considering laws that will enable it to force local planning authorities to accept the construction of nuclear plants, trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling told the Financial Times on Wednesday. Such measures would enable the quick delivery of new nuclear build and wind farms alike, he said.

But Alistair Darling also said that nuclear would not receive subsidies or financial incentives from the state.

The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the comments, which it said point to a consensus between the two main parties that faster planning for energy infrastructure is needed, as Kate Barker recommended in her report this week (see related story).

Richard Lambert, CBI director general, said: "In particular, the support of both parties for a streamlined planning system for energy infrastructure is as essential as it is welcome. The Barker Review confirmed earlier this week that the UK's flawed planning regime is holding back development essential for the whole country."

"Potential investors in much needed plant, and energy consumers alike, will have much more confidence to act if the two major parties can broadly agree on what needs to be done to create a stable long-term market for energy."

The results of the Energy Review are expected next week - within three months of the end of the consultation period, which closed on April 14.

Goska Romanowicz


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