DTI minister backs nuclear new-build

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Building a new fleet of nuclear reactors is a "no brainer", according to a government minister with responsibility for global energy and climate change.

Conservative politicians said the Government risked pre-empting its energy review, which will begin soon and will consider how to replace Britain's ageing nuclear reactors. The Government claims it is keeping an open mind over how to maintain a secure supply of energy while at the same time meeting targets on cutting CO 2 emissions.

The comments from Ian Pearson, the minister for trade with a brief on energy issues, are the most explicit expression of support for nuclear power from a senior Labour figure. Nuclear power is virtually carbon free.

"My personal view is that we ought to look at a limited new-build nuclear programme, probably based around existing sites," he said. "That strikes me as pretty much a no-brainer. To meet our future climate-change targets, it is the right thing to do, and in terms of the energy mix." He conceded that "there are a whole series of concerns you have to get right" over nuclear energy, for example how to safely store radioactive waste.

Mr Pearson stressed that the Government had not made a decision on the outcome of the energy review. "The Government view is that we will be conducting a review and looking at all the options. Alan Johnson [the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry] has said we have got a completely open mind on it."

But Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Energy minister, insisted the question of whether to build new nuclear reactors should be an economic, not a political decision. "It's for investors and generators to decide if nuclear power is the most effective way of generating electricity and reducing CO 2. Ministers should avoid either pre-empting their own review or promoting one technology over the other."

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, which is responsible for recommending to the Government, next summer, how to store the 470,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste in the UK, will hold a public briefing on Thursday.