Plans for nuclear energy set to spark cabinet row

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Proposals to build a series of nuclear power stations in Britain will be put to Tony Blair this week by Alan Johnson, the new Secretary of State for Productivity, Energy and Industry.

Proposals to build a series of nuclear power stations in Britain will be put to Tony Blair this week by Alan Johnson, the new Secretary of State for Productivity, Energy and Industry.

The Prime Minister told senior aides before the election that he would use any fresh "political capital" to launch a personal crusade for a big programme of reactor-building.

He partially cleared his path last week by moving Patricia Hewitt, who opposed new nuclear power plants, from the Department of Trade and Industry, which was in charge of energy policy. But his plans will bring him into conflict with Gordon Brown, whose Treasury is deeply wary of the cost of a new nuclear programme, and Margaret Beckett, who kept her job as Environment Secretary.

President George Bush last week announced a drive to revive the energy source and to "work with like-minded countries" at this summer's G8 summit at Gleneagles, to expand it worldwide.

Ministers will receive a 46-paragraph briefing note from Joan MacNaughton, the director general of energy policy at the Department of Productivity, The Observer reports. The note says there is a risk of energy supply shortage after 2008 and it will be "easier to push ahead on controversial issues early in a new parliament".

No new concrete plans for new power stations have yet been prepared, but senior officials accept that there will have to be an extensive building programme of up to 10 reactors to keep the cost down through economies of scale.

A major row now seems inevitable. But environmentalists believe the plants will never be built, partly because the Treasury will baulk at the massive subsidies needed.

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