Labour reaction: Backbench MPs pledge to oppose changes to the planning system

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The Independent Online

Labour MPs have criticised the Government's U-turn over nuclear power and pledged to fight proposals to streamline the planning system to speed up the building of a new generation of nuclear stations.

But opponents of nuclear power welcomed the boost to renewable sources of energy and a new drive on energy efficiency announced in the Commons by Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary.

After taking charge of the Government's Energy Review in May when he moved to the DTI, Mr Darling beefed up the non-nuclear elements of the document published yesterday. He produced a more balanced package than Tony Blair suggested in May when he said nuclear power was back on the agenda - three years after the previous review rejected it.

Mr Darling said new nuclear stations "could make a significant contribution to meeting our energy policy goals". But he did not predict how many would be built, saying it would be up to the private sector to fund plants, and to meet the costs of decommissioning and long-term waste disposal.

He said a White Paper to be published in the new year would include proposals to remove potential barriers to building new stations, such as the planning laws.

Calling for an expansion of offshore wind power, Mr Darling said renewable sources would receive, in effect, a £1bn subsidy, and denied the Government would offer hidden subsidies to the nuclear industry.

But Michael Meacher, the former environment minister, said that Britain's energy gap could be bridged without a new commitment to nuclear stations, which he warned would be "hopelessly uneconomic" and increase the risk of a terrorist attack.

Elliot Morley, an environment minister who opposed nuclear power and was sacked by Mr Blair on the eve of the review, called for guarantees the Government would not have to pay the clean-up costs if private companies went bankrupt.

Alan Duncan, the shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, said the review was "a grave and perilous let-down."

Ed Davey, trade and industry spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, who oppose nuclear power, said: "There is a huge danger the Government will undermine investment in energy efficiency and renewables. By picking the nuclear option the Government is imposing a stealth tax on every home. Every nuclear power station ever built has needed public subsidies."

The Government's plans sparked a diplomatic row with the Irish Government. Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs, said: "The Irish government remains implacably opposed to new nuclear build in Britain."

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