Energy giants reveal nuclear plans in face of rising public disapproval

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The Independent Online

One of the four companies hoping to build new nuclear power plants in Britain unveiled its proposals for public scrutiny today as it was revealed that more than 90 per cent of people are worried about creating more nuclear waste.

As the energy giant EDF and nuclear specialists Areva launched their proposals, the Government is in the middle of a wider consultation on whether to build such power stations to help meet Britain's future energy needs.

The process appeared to be in disarray recently when invited environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, pulled out, labelling it a "PR stitch-up".

Existing nuclear facilities, which are responsible for about 20 per cent of the UK's energy, are due to go "off line" over the next two decades and the consultation on whether it should form part of Britain's future energy mix is due to be completed by 10 October.

Preliminary results yesterday showed that 46 per cent of people support, or strongly support, the continued use of nuclear power, with only 25 per cent saying they either oppose or strongly oppose the idea. But 89 per cent were either concerned or very concerned about safety and security issues associated with nuclear energy, and 92 per cent were very concerned or quite concerned about creating new nuclear waste.

More than 1,000 people took part in nine public meetings across the UK over the weekend and more comprehensive results are expected early this week.

The Business and Enterprise Secretary, John Hutton, glossed over the dispute with the environmental groups, insisting that the meetings had been useful. He said: "We have a preliminary view – that nuclear should be able to play a part in providing the energy that we need to keep the lights on and help cut carbon emissions.

"But it is important that we know what the public thinks."

The new 20-week consultation was ordered earlier this year after a High Court ruling deemed the previous process "seriously flawed" and "manifestly inadequate and unfair".

EDF and Areva have launched a joint website giving details about their EPR reactor. It will allow members of the public to comment on the design before the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency make a final decision on whether it meets the required safety and green credentials.

The assessment process could take up to three years. The Government has expressed a view that new nuclear power stations should be built, but if this is rejected during consultation then the plans will be scrapped.