Blair demands nuclear power to protect high 'living standards'

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair has ruled out making changes to "living standards" to tackle global warming, and is drawing up plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions instead.

Tony Blair has ruled out making changes to "living standards" to tackle global warming, and is drawing up plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions instead.

The Prime Minister has personally endorsed "keeping the nuclear option open" and is planning a government statement on a change of policy before the summer, in the face of opposition from cabinet ministers, including Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment. Mr Blair's decision to revive the nuclear agenda was revealed two weeks ago by The Independent which reported that Mr Blair's own strategy unit was working on it.

Yesterday, a leaked government briefing document disclosed that the nuclear option would be looked at soon after Parliament returns. A paper by departmental civil servants for Alan Johnson, the new Secretary of State for Productivity Energy and Industry, proposes that building more nuclear power plants or extending the lives of present ones should be a top priority for the first months of Labour's third term. It stresses the "need to act soon" and says there is a "case for looking at the nuclear question quickly".

The paper says: "This formula to 'keep the nuclear option open' was a compromise endorsed by the PM, between ministers for and against. The question is whether we need to decide now (bearing in mind that it is generally easier to push ahead on controversial issues early in a new Parliament).

It says nuclear should be looked at as an option for tackling climate change and protecting the energy supply. But it adds: "CO2 emissions have been rising in recent years. We look to be falling well short of the goal to cut them by 20 per cent by 2010."

The revival of nuclear power is bolstered by the Prime Minister's admission that he is opposed to asking people to make changes to their lifestyle - such as buying energy-efficient refrigerators or taking the Eurostar instead of flights to Europe - to reduce global warming. Mr Blair has said publicly there is no political will to force people to make lifestyle changes to less fuel-hungry cars or energy-efficient lightbulbs.

His remarks infuriated the Green movement: Stephen Tindale, director of Greenpeace, said: "He is implying that anyone who is against nuclear is in favour of making people go back and live in caves. It's absolutely ridiculous. He is saying he is not asking anyone to make any choices to protect the living standards of children in the future."

The move to build more nuclear power stations while discounting lifestyle changes is also opposed by Labour MPs and Whitehall officials. Civil servants say it could weaken the Government's case against nuclear proliferation involving states such as Iran and North Korea. They criticised Mr Blair for ruling out "lifestyle changes".

One said: "Getting an energy-efficient fridge is not going to change lifestyle. The push for nuclear is coming from the nuclear companies and their fellow-travellers in Government. There is no real urgency to take this particular decision, especially if it spreads yet more confusion. It could destroy UK credibility on climate change during the G8 and EU presidency."

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