Government accused of U-turn on nuclear energy

Click to follow

Friends of the Earth has accused the Government of being "pro-nuclear" after a review of energy policy suggested that 15 nuclear power stations could be built in Britain to replace the current stock of ageing generators.

The review of energy needs for the next 50 years, which is being done by the Cabinet Office's performance and innovation unit, will conclude that the existing 15 generators be replaced. It says that the building of new power stations will be necessary "insurance" after Britain becomes a net importer of oil and gas, according to reports.

If the moves are approved, they would renege on Labour's promise in its 1997 manifesto that there was no case for nuclear power – although the pledge was dropped in this year's general election manifesto. Building the power stations would mean that about 22 per cent of the country's energy would continue to be provided by nuclear power.

Tony Juniper, director designate of Friends of the Earth, said that the Government's stance "beggars belief". There were several alternative sources of sustainable energy in Britain, including wind, solar and wave power. He said yesterday: "The policy seems to be increasingly in favour of the out-dated and expensive nuclear technology of the 20th century."

A modern energy policy involving renewable energy could reduce emissions while creating jobs and new industries to supply growing global markets, he said. "That message is clearly not getting through and there is a growing impression that the government is not green."

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office refused to speculate on the review, which is expected to announce its conclusions at the end of the year, and added that all types of energy sources were being considered.

But the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, said on GMTV's Sunday programme that she was "baffled" by the claims that 15 power stations could be built.

She said: "I saw the team a couple of weeks ago who are doing this review of energy policy out of the Cabinet Office and they certainly did not mention that to me. What we are looking at is the whole of our energy policy, looking ahead 50 years to make sure that we can deliver a sustainable economic policy, a sustainable energy policy, that will meet our economic needs, but will also of course meet our environmental needs."

Ministers have expressed fears that allowing nuclear reactors to cease operation gradually would leave the country vulnerable by relying on oil and gas from unstable regions.