Blair and Chirac seal nuclear deal

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Tony Blair said after a summit with the French President, Jacques Chirac: "I'm aware [that nuclear energy] is a very controversial issue. I think, of course, there should be a very full public debate. But I think this is a classic case that the decisions we take today as political leaders will be felt in 15, 20 or 30 years. I don't want people looking back and saying, 'What were those guys doing when the facts were very clear?'"

Mr Blair and M. Chirac have set up a Franco-British "nuclear forum" in which government officials, experts and the energy industry will "discuss nuclear co-operation". Talks will cover aspects such as research into new nuclear power stations and how to manage nuclear waste.

Since France has the world's most developed nuclear energy sector - with 60 nuclear plants supplying 80 per cent of its electricity - the new forum is a strong signal of the direction of British Government thinking. Mr Blair said he did not wish to pre-empt the government's long-term Energy Review, due to be published next month. But at the open-air summit, held at the Elysée Palace in Paris, he repeated his previous statement that nuclear power was "right at the top of the agenda".

He pointed to the need to find a "clean" option to replace ageing, first-generation UK nuclear plants and North Sea oil and gas.

"The fact is, we have 20 per cent of our electricity today from nuclear power. In 15 or 20 years' time, that's gone," the Prime Minister said. "Today, we are 80 or 90 per cent self-sufficient as Britain in gas and oil. In 15 or 20 years, we will import 80 to 90 per cent.

"Therefore, if I look at it from the point of view of energy security or from the point of view of clean energy and climate change, to be in a position where we can't even replace the existing nuclear capacity seems to me to be a very big problem."

French officials welcomed Mr Blair's decision to increase cooperation with France on nuclear power, saying it might offer the possibility of a lucrative cross-Channel market for France's nuclear power industry.