Energy Bill to pave way for nuclear future

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The Independent Online

A package of bills encompassing the Government's energy and climate change plans has paved the way for the building of the next generation of nuclear reactors.

On the day that oil prices hit a new high of more than $97 a barrel, Gordon Brown unveiled in the Queen's Speech a target to reduce the UK's carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, and up to 32 per cent by 2020.

The Prime Minister also proposed an Energy Bill to provide funding for nuclear waste and decommissioning, as well as incentives for the private sector to invest in renewable energy and other clean energy initiatives such as carbon capture. Along with plans to streamline the planning process, energy experts said that the bills cleared a path for new nuclear power.

"We think the Government is right to look at new nuclear power generation given the key role it could play in helping reduce the UK's carbon emissions," said a spokesman from Centrica, parent of British Gas. "It could play an important part in ensuring a diversity of different sources of power generation in this country, which is helpful for ensuring security of supplies for our customers."

In the most ambitious scenario, construction of new reactors would not begin before 2012. After a lengthy consultation, the Government is expected to lay out its definitive energy strategy before the end of this year.

Greenpeace derided the Bills as a step toward a "dark, dystopian future" relying too much on nuclear plants that take too long to build and ignoring more readily available and cheaper green alternatives. "They fully intend to use the Energy Bill to implement this farce without looking at cleaner alternatives, or dealing with any of the problems of waste and economics," said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace.

Energy experts applauded the Planning Reform Bill, which will take power away from local councils in favour of a national government commission to approve major infrastructure projects. "The Government must be bold in creating a framework of investment for nuclear and wind farms alike that will allow the UK to work towards a serious reduction in carbon emissions," Rob Cormie, a partner at KPMG Corporate Finance's energy practice, said. "Without amending the planning process we will spend the time between now and 2020 discussing whether or not we should have nuclear power, rather than actually building assets that keep the lights on and meet the Government's stated objectives."