Labour plan for a nuclear future

Union prepares to back DTI report as Government seeks CBI's 'business edge'
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The Government is to raise the spectre of building new nuclear power stations in Britain, in a policy document to be published next month.

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is to push the controversial issue back onto the agenda after it was effectively sidelined in the much-hyped Downing Street energy review, completed earlier this year. Under Energy minister, Brian Wilson, officials are putting the finishing touches to an energy consultation paper that will form the foundations of a White Paper to be published before the year's end.

In its section on nuclear power, the consultation paper is expected to pose three questions that will be weighted towards the industry. It will ask what are the realistic lead times to develop nuclear power stations; the impact on carbon emissions; and the measures needed to combat nuclear waste.

Privately, the DTI is worried that the energy review, carried out by the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), lacked a hard business edge. Officials now hope that the Confederation of British Industry will play a lead role in the consultation process.

There have been consistent rumours that the nuclear section of the PIU report was toned down before it reached Tony Blair in February. As a result the main thrust of the report was to set renewable energy targets.

Separately, it is understood that Amicus, Britain's second largest union, is preparing to give its backing to the expansion of the nuclear industry. The union was formed through the merger of the AEEU and the MSF. Sir Ken Jackson, joint general secretary of Amicus, is also chairman of nuclear waste body, Nirex.

News of the consultation document will delight Britain's nuclear industry, which complained that the PIU review failed to tackle the industry's fundamental issues, such as planning delays.

British Energy has led the charge by revealing Britain's crop of nuclear power stations will expire between 2011 and 2025. The ace in the industry's pack is that the Government wants to see a massive reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, but many renewable generators will take decades to come on-stream.

This point was raised last month by David King, the Government's chief scientific advisor. He warned that if nuclear power stations were not replaced over the next 20 yearsBritain would still be heavily reliant on fossil fuel sources.

As well as using the PIU's work, the DTI consultation document will draw on recent reports produced by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Trade and Industry and House of Lords Select Committees. The consultation document will also address growing concerns over security of electricity supply, following last summer's California energy crisis. The DTI will ask for the first time whether in five years this could be an issue for Britain.