November 29, 2005

Anti-nuclear protesters greet UK energy review

By Mike Peacock

LONDON (Reuters) - Anti-nuclear protesters staged a rooftop
demonstration on Tuesday in a hall where British Prime Minister
Tony Blair was due to launch a major review of Britain's future
energy needs.

Speculation is rife that Blair favors the building of a new
generation of nuclear power stations to help fill a looming
energy gap.

The Greenpeace protesters clambered into the rafters of the
conference center shortly before Blair was due to speak,
dropping leaflets, saying: "Nuclear: Wrong Answer."

Several lawmakers in Blair's own Labour party are also
known to be opposed to a major program of new-generation
nuclear power stations.

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.

Critics say it will saddle Britain with nuclear waste that
will have to be safeguarded for centuries.

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.

"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 as Labour parliamentarians rebelled over terrorism laws.

More such setbacks could herald the end for a prime
minister who has already declared he will not fight another
election although he can probably count on opposition
Conservative support for nuclear energy.