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Blair Says Nuclear Power Back on the Agenda with a Vengeance

LONDON, UK, May 17, 2006 (ENS) - Prime Minister Tony Blair says new British nuclear power plants are needed to deal with the "twin pressures of climate change and energy security." Environmentalists reacted angrily to Blair's suggestion that his government is ready to rely on nuclear energy.

In remarks to the Confederation of British Industry on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said the government will publish an Energy Review before Parliament takes its summer recess, but he has seen a first draft that puts "replacement of nuclear power stations... back on the agenda with a vengeance."

Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper said, "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."

Thirty-three nuclear units are in operation in the United Kingdom, generating almost 25 percent of the country's electricity.

All but one are scheduled to close by 2025 as are several older, coal-fired power plants, totaling one-third of Britain's generating capacity.


British Prime Minister Tony Blair said new nuclear plants are a necessity. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
Blair told the industrialists that the first draft of the energy review, headed by Department of Trade and Industry Minister Malcolm Wicks, shows that, "By 2025, if current policy is unchanged, there will be a dramatic gap on our targets to reduce CO2 emissions."

"We will become heavily dependent on gas," said Blair, "and at the same time move from being 80/90 percent, self-reliant in gas to 80/90 percent dependent on foreign imports, mostly from the Middle East and Africa and Russia."

Blair also said these "stark" facts also mean there should be "a big push on renewables and a step-change on energy efficiency, engaging both business and consumers," but these points did not upset environmentalists, who agree that renewables and efficiency are important.

"The UK could be leading the world in the development of a low carbon, nuclear free economy," said Juniper. "But rather than backing safe solutions for tackling climate change and meeting our energy needs, he seems intent on trying to waste yet more taxpayers money on a discredited and dangerous nuclear dinosaur."

Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, called Blair's announcement "the latest act in the long running farce that is the Energy Review."

Tindale accused the Prime Minister of repeating claims made by the nuclear industry its recent public relations campaign.

"Tony Blair positioned nuclear power as part of the solution to climate change and the UK's energy gap. But the claims are disingenuous," Tindale said. "Building 10 new nuclear reactors would only deliver a four per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2024, even at the most optimistic build rate: far too little, too late to help combat climate change."

power plant

Construction of Calder Hall nuclear power plant in Cumbria, England was ordered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1953. (Photo courtesy BNFL)
"Nuclear power presents a real terrorist threat, costs a stupid amount of money, doesn't help in the fight against climate change and certainly won't plug the energy gap," Tindale said. "To put this hazard back on the agenda is recklessly incompetent."

Recently shuffled out of the Blair Cabinet, former environment minister Elliot Morley said environment ministers were not involved enough in the energy review.

Morley told "The Guardian" newspaper, "If nuclear power was so great then you would have the private sector willing to invest in it."

"The reality is that economically the risks are great and the returns are low," he said, due to "the cost of decommissioning, the storage, reprocessing and the responsibility for the waste."

Juniper says that even before the final draft of the energy review is tabled, the Prime Minister has decided to rely on nuclear power, and is rearranging his government to support that position.

"It's probably no coincidence that a number of nuclear skeptics were removed from key Cabinet posts earlier this month," Juniper said.

In the May 5 Cabinet shuffle, one day after the Blair government took a pounding at the polls, David Miliband became environment secretary, replacing Margaret Beckett, who was viewed as a nuclear skeptic. Beckett took the post of foreign secretary, replacing Jack Straw.

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