UK 'can cut carbon emissions without nuclear power'

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Britain does not need new nuclear power stations to help cut the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide causing global warming, the chairman of a government-backed research company said last night.

Meeting targets for cutting emissions can be done by increasing energy efficiency, renewable energy, and hydrogen power, said Ian McAllister, chairman of the Carbon Trust, a company set up by the Government earlier this year to help businesses lower levels of carbon emissions.

Mr McAllister is also one of Britain's most powerful industrialists as chairman of Ford UK, and his statement is a significant intervention in the debate about the future of the UK's energy policy, currently undergoing a long-term review.

In its election manifesto this year, the Labour Party gave no pledge about the future construction of nuclear power stations and the review, which is due to report in December, may suggest their revival. The panel is headed by the Energy minister Brian Wilson, a known nuclear-power supporter.

One of the most frequently used arguments from the nuclear industry is that atomic power stations – as opposed to coal, gas and oil-fired ones – produce virtually no CO2, and so should be a principal weapon in the fight against climate change. Mr McAllister's intervention makes it much less easy to deploy that argument in the context of Britain's legally-binding targets to cut CO2 under the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty on combating climate change.

He made it as the Carbon Trust produced its own official submission, complete with a graph, showing how the Kyoto targets can be met without nuclear power construction.

"The good news for the Government is that it has a completely free choice over whether to build new nuclear power stations," Mr McAllister told The Independent. "Our research shows the UK can meet its targets for cutting carbon emissions with or without nuclear power. It will mean significant investment ... but it is technologically feasible.

"There may be other reasons why the Government might decide to go for nuclear, but we can achieve a low-carbon economy without nuclear."

Meanwhile, 2,000 delegates from 160 countries began a meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, yesterday, to finalise the Kyoto Protocol's terms. In July, in Bonn, the protocol was saved from the collapse feared after the Americans walked out a year ago and George Bush officially rejected the treaty in the spring. The current meeting is to translate the broad political agreement reached in Bonn into a detailed "rule book".