Drift to nuclear power angers UK environmentalists
By Jeremy Lovell
LONDON (Reuters) – British environmentalists expressed
anger on Wednesday at growing signs the government was moving
toward approving the building of a new generation of nuclear
The government’s chief scientist has said the need for
massive investment to replace the country’s aging nuclear
plants was self-evident and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
has signaled he is moving in the same direction.
“Blair seems to have fallen for the nuclear industry’s
propaganda campaign,” Friends of the Earth director Tony
Juniper told Reuters. “But it is the wrong decision. Nuclear is
unsafe, the technology untested and in any case far too
The shift took the green lobby by surprise after it
believed it had won the argument against nuclear power years
All but one of Britain’s nuclear stations will close by
2023. Without new ones, nuclear power will provide four percent
of Britain’s electricity by 2010, down from 21 percent now.
Although Blair’s office has denied that he has taken any
decision, a government source told Reuters he had become a
nuclear convert but the cabinet was divided.
The key lies with the Treasury which would have to approve
the huge government subsidies — in capital investment or
guaranteed prices — and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon
Brown who is expected to take over from Blair before 2009.
However, Juniper said a new generation of nuclear power
stations would have only a marginal effect on emissions of
greenhouse gases because electricity generation accounted for
only one-third of carbon dioxide output.
“Replacing all the existing nuclear power stations with new
ones would only cut greenhouse gas emissions by eight percent.
Energy efficiency and renewables together could have a far
bigger impact,” he said.
“In any case the nuclear industry has always underestimated
its costs and overestimated its benefits.”
The pressure is coming from the convergence of several
factors such as booming oil prices, the need to tackle global
warming caused by burning fossil fuels, the need to decide soon
on nuclear replacements and rising emphasis on energy security.
However, Environment Agency Chairman John Harman expressed
doubts about the economics.
“I still don’t believe the rise in fuel costs is enough to
float nuclear off the economic rocks,” he told Reuters.
Officials say Blair will announce within two weeks a
full-scale review of Britain’s future energy needs, to be
completed in 2006 when a final decision will be taken.
Andrew Lee, head of campaigns at conservation group WWF,
said it must rule out nuclear energy.
“It is unsafe, uneconomic and unnecessary,” he told
Reuters. “From our point of view, there is no surer way of
killing off renewables than opting for nuclear.”
It is not just the issue of costs.
There is still no guaranteed method of dealing safely with
nuclear waste, which remains deadly for generations.
“We don’t want to see any decision on nuclear rebuild until
the government has decided what to do with the waste,” said
Harman, whose Environment Agency is a government body
responsible for cleaning up the nation’s environment.