Blair gives nuclear green light

Tony Blair has finally announced what everyone has expected for months - that he believes nuclear power must play a role in meeting the UK's future energy needs.

Speaking at the annual dinner of the CBI, the Prime Minister said the Energy Review had concluded that nuclear was a necessity and is ‘back on the agenda with a vengeance’.

Since the launch of the review there has been little doubt that it would favour nuclear over renewables and there has been a mixed reaction to Mr Blair’s announcement.

Big business has warmly welcomed the decision, with Digby Jones, Director-General of the CBI, saying: “The Prime Minister is absolutely right to put nuclear power firmly on the agenda for the future.

“The Government must take brave decisions as a result of its energy review, to help deliver to business and consumers secure and affordable power for the long term – that doesn’t come at the expense of the environment.

“With an ever-increasing reliance on imported gas, and the pressing need to reduce carbon emissions, nuclear power may well form part of the solution.

“New nuclear build need not be at the expense of renewable sources – both can have a role delivering the UK’s 21st Century energy supplies.

“Whatever the mix of energy sources, a big leap forward in energy efficiency from all sectors is also essential.”

The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) also gave Mr Blair’s announcement a warm reception.

“Secure, competitively priced energy supplies are vital to the future of chemical manufacturing in this country and we see nuclear energy as an essential component of a diversified, low carbon energy supply mix for the long term future,” said the association’s chief executive, Stephen Elliott.

“As the UK’s natural resources decline we are becoming more reliant on other sources of gas to meet our national needs. The CIA welcomes the considerable investment being undertaken to enable new supplies to reach our shores. However, last winter taught us that this import capacity is not always fully utilised.

“It is therefore essential that the UK rapidly increases its gas storage capabilities to ensure all demand, both domestic and industrial, can be met even when import flows to the UK are restricted.”

But his comments have not been universally welcomed, with London Mayor Ken Livingstone among those openly saying he has made an expensive and dangerous mistake.

“It will be the great misjudgement of our generation to go back down the nuclear road, which would saddle our children and grandchildren with the consequences,” he told reporters.

“I would say to Tony Blair and every politician who has the ability to influence the future energy strategy of our country that giving the green light to nuclear power would be an expensive and dangerous mistake that is simply not the solution to the problem of climate change.

“The government will get it disastrously wrong if it reactivates the nuclear option. We need a solution to climate change that protects the environment not damages it.

“There is already huge public opposition to nuclear, with the most recent poll of Londoners showing sixty seven per cent against nuclear waste being transported through densely populated areas like London.

“Seventy two per cent of Londoners say they oppose the building of a nuclear power station in their local area and I am sure these figures would be substantially higher in areas where nuclear power stations might actually be built.

“It is not even the case that nuclear power will solve the problem of climate change.

“Even if we doubled the number of nuclear power stations over the next twenty years – a barely credible proposition – it would cut carbon emissions by just eight per cent. According to the best scientific evidence we need cuts of three or four times this”

Former Environment Minister Elliott Morley told the Guardian newspaper that Defra’s position had been largely ignored in favour of the DTI during the review, and arguments favouring renewables were not given a fair hearing.

Leaping on this dissension in Labour ranks, the Conservative party sought to drive home a political point, without going as far as outlining their own position on nuclear energy.

Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alan Duncan said: “It is a damning indictment when the former Climate Change Minister does not consider the Government’s Energy Review to have been open, transparent and fair.

“It is clear that the whole Energy Review has been a smokescreen for a decision that Tony Blair had already taken. He was determined from day one to have nuclear power as part of his legacy.

“While the Government has failed to consult its own environment team, the Conservatives are putting climate change and the need for green growth at the heart of our agenda.”

The environmental NGOs have reacted angrily to the Prime Minister’s announcement, with Friends of the Earth Scotland’s chief executive Duncan McLaren saying: “Increasingly it looks like the energy consultation has been a complete sham.

“It’s clear that Tony Blair is fixated with nuclear power and is determined to oversee a new generation of nuclear reactors rather than investing in clean and sustainable options that already exist.

“It’s probably no coincidence that a number of nuclear sceptics were removed from key cabinet posts earlier this month.

“Scotland could become a world leader in developing a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy. Instead of getting side-tracked by a new nuclear power programme the Executive must commit themselves to a path of investment in the safe and sustainable solutions that already exist.

“The Executive should warn Westminster that it will strongly oppose any attempts to impose new nuclear power stations on Scotland, reflecting the majority opinion in the Scottish electorate who know nuclear power is a white elephant and should have no place in this country’s energy future.”

Sam Bond

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