November 29, 2005

Blair expected to favor nuclear in energy review

By Mike Peacock

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will
launch a review on Tuesday of Britain's energy needs and stoke
speculation that he favours nuclear power by warning that
renewable sources cannot fully meet the country's needs.

Any move to build new nuclear power stations will run into
fierce opposition both from environmental campaigners and
dozens of lawmakers in his own Labour party.

Officials said Blair will tell the Confederation of British
Industry (CBI) employers' group that in 15 years, the
mothballing of old coal and nuclear stations will leave a big
hole in Britain's energy supply.

"Some of this will be replaced by renewables, but not all
of it can," he will say.

Government advisers and industry groups are urging new
investment in nuclear power, not least because Britain will
probably miss its greenhouse gas reduction goals without it.

Blair's public statements up to now suggest he believes new
nuclear power stations are probably needed. But his aides
insist the government has not made up its mind.

"He hasn't made that decision. The only decision the prime
minister has made is that he has to make a decision ... within
this parliament," Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson
told BBC Radio. "I come to this completely neutral on nuclear."


Johnson said the review will concentrate on security of
supply, affordability and cutting greenhouse gases.

It will report back next year.

The government's chief scientific adviser, David King, has
urged Blair to give the go-ahead for an expansion of nuclear
power generation to help stem climate change.

The CBI has also pressed for a decision within a year to
end uncertainty about energy supply.

Britain has become a net importer of gas as its North Sea
supplies dwindle. The government is concerned about the
security of its energy supply, which will increasingly come
from abroad.

Recent rocketing gas prices have highlighted possible
problems in the future.

All but one of the UK's nuclear power stations are due to
close by 2023. Without new investment, nuclear power will meet
only a small fraction of Britain's energy needs by 2010, down
from 21 percent now.

But Blair faces stiff opposition from Labour lawmakers,
some 40 of whom have already signed a motion rejecting new
nuclear power stations.

After a May election slashed Blair's parliamentary majority
by about 100 seats to 66, it requires fewer than 40 Labour
rebels siding with opposition parties to defeat the government.

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

"These have so far been underplayed by the prime minister,
who has fallen for the nuclear industry's slick PR campaign."

Blair suffered his first ever big parliamentary defeat last
month. More such setbacks could herald the end for a prime
minister who has already declared he will not fight another