Government wrangle delays nuclear review

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The Independent Online
A CABINET split is delaying the announcement of the terms of reference for a review on the future of Britain's nuclear industry.

The Treasury and the Department of the Environment have warned the Department of Trade and Industry, which covers energy, that they must include environmental impact.

Whitehall sources have told the Independent that officials at the DoE are furious at the way they believe the DTI plans to steamroller the privatisation of the nuclear industry through Cabinet. The DTI wants to limit the review to the viability of privatisation, and the building of another Pressurised Water Reactor at Sizewell, Suffolk. That is in the constituency of John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, and he is expected to exclude himself from the ministerial decision.

The Treasury, backed by the DoE, is insisting that the terms of reference include questions about the long-term costs of storage for nuclear fuel from the next generation of nuclear stations. The Treasury fears that in the next century, the industry may seek to have its storage costs met by the taxpayer rather than by the industry.

Tim Eggar, the Minister for Energy, gave a commitment in the Commons on 20 October 1993, to 'make an announcement on the nuclear review before the end of the year'. His department issued a brief written answer, days before the Commons rose for the Christmas recess, announcing a delay until the new year.

'Three key departments are at odds. The DTI wants a minimalist approach; the Treasury is worried about the cost; and the DoE is concerned about the environmental consequences. The Government's energy policy is in a mess,' said Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat spokesman.

Nuclear Electric, set up by the Government to run the nuclear industry in England, is keen to be privatised.

The review may be further delayed by a judicial review into the decision to go ahead with the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) at Sellafield. Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, and Lancashire County Council expect to be given leave on 13 January for a court hearing later that month.

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