November 29, 2005

Britain puts nuclear power back on agenda

By Mike Peacock and Katherine Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair put
nuclear power back on the agenda on Tuesday when he launched a
review of energy policy, pledging to decide by the middle of
next year on how to fill a looming energy gap.

A review concluded two years ago that nuclear costs were
unclear and that renewable sources such as wind or solar power,
along with less wasteful use of fossil fuels, could suffice.

But booming oil and gas prices, global warming, an
increased emphasis on energy security and the need to decide
soon on whether to replace aging nuclear plants is putting
pressure on the government to take another look.

"(The review) will include specifically the issue of
whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of
nuclear power stations," Blair told business leaders, adding
that there would be a firm policy announcement in early summer

Anti-nuclear demonstrators, concerned about risks to the
environment from dangerous nuclear waste, staged a protest
ahead of Blair's speech, mingling in suits and ties with
delegates before clambering up into the rafters of the
conference center.

The prime minister was forced to deliver his speech in a
cramped sideroom as the Greenpeace protesters unfurled a banner
and dropped leaflets, saying: "Nuclear: Wrong Answer."

Whatever the outcome of the review, the nuclear lobby and
environmentalists agreed it would give a signal to the rest of
the world on whether to build more nuclear plants or close

"At the very least the nuclear plants need to be replaced,
and we suggest that they should be increased," said Nigel
Withey, managing director of Inenco, UK-based energy
consultants. "Renewables have a part to play, but only a part.
We don't see a huge alternative to nuclear power."


Speculation is rife that Blair has already made up his mind
to invest in nuclear power but a significant number of
lawmakers in his centre-left Labor party are against the idea.

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

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

Business leaders favor nuclear power but environmental
groups want more efficient use of fossil fuels, less
electricity waste and more renewable power.

Britain has become a net importer of gas as its North Sea
supplies dwindle and the government is concerned about the
security of supply, which will increasingly come from abroad.
Rocketing gas prices have highlighted possible problems.

Only one of the UK's nuclear power stations is due to be
open in 2023. Without new investment, nuclear power will meet 4
percent of Britain's energy needs by 2010, down from 21

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

Since a May election slashed his majority, that number
siding with opposition parties can defeat the government in
parliament, although Blair can probably count on opposition
Conservative support for nuclear energy.