Major gives green light to nuclear industry growth

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister surprised and cheered Britain's nuclear industry yesterday by backing the expansion of UK atomic energy as a way of combatting the threat of global warming. His endorsement, as he launched four post-Rio Earth Summit reports, comes shortly before the Government is due to announce terms of reference for a nuclear industry review.

With a pro-nuclear Secretary of State for the Environment in John Gummer, Suffolk Coastal's MP, prospects of a Sizewell C pressurised water reactor being built in the county with private sector finance seem to be brightening. There are ways in which the City can be persuaded to overcome its reluctance and buy most of the industry, its leaders say.

''I think there will be a growth in the nuclear programme over the years but we do need to match growth in that programme against other environmental objectives,' said John Major. He wanted the best independent advice and the widest public debate. 'We need a positive lead; if that's what this is it's very welcome,' said Malcolm Grimston, of the British Nuclear Industry Forum.

Nuclear power's share of Britain's electricity generation has risen rapidly recently to 25 per cent. With a workforce of 40,000 - spread among state-owned companies such as Scottish Nuclear, Nuclear Electric and British Nuclear Fuels and private sector engineering companies - the forum claims its 73 members employ more than British Coal and all coal- fired power stations together. Those produce large quantities of climate- changing carbon dioxide gas; nuclear power stations do not.

As the ageing first generation of Magnox power stations are phased out the recently completed Sizewell B PWR reactor will replace much of their capacity. However, the industry wants to build Sizewell C, which would be twice as big, to stop a decline in employment. It claims there would be massive economies of scale in building a second PWR.

Mr Major told a press conference every aspect of citizens' lives must change before economic growth and care for the environment can walk hand-in-hand. Environmental organisations and the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties dismissed the high-profile London launch, with eight ministers flanking Mr Major, as a lavish repackaging of existing environmental policies and commitments.

The four reports include an overarching one on sustainable development; a plan for stabilising polluting emissions to combat climate change; measures for protecting plants and animals and for conserving and expanding forests. Britain's promise to produce them was made at the United Nation's 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil which Mr Major attended.

Response to Rio, page 7

Sara Parkin, page 16