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43% back UK nuclear plant subsidies


More people back subsidies for new nuclear power plants in the UK than are opposed to them, a poll has revealed.

More than two-fifths (43%) think the Government should subsidise the construction of new reactors, compared to 28% who do not back the idea, the survey of more than 2,000 people showed.

Almost half of those questioned (46%) support the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants in the UK, while 29% do not.

Among those who backed new nuclear reactors, almost three-quarters (72%) thought that the Government should subsidise their construction, the poll for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found.

The coalition is backing the development of a new fleet of reactors as part of effort to cut carbon emissions and keep the lights on, but has said it would only support new nuclear power with no public subsidy.

Nuclear is one of a number of low-carbon technologies benefiting from reforms to the electricity market, under which they will get a guaranteed price for the electricity they generate under contracts drawn up with the Government.

The policy aims to overcome the high capital costs of projects and give certainty to investors, with the extra cost for the electricity met by consumer bills.

But ministers have faced criticism that they are distorting reforms of the electricity market by "hiding" nuclear subsidies in the one-size-fits-all design of the contracts which will pay a guaranteed price for different types of low-carbon power.

Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: "For years now, the Government has been reluctant to offer nuclear power developers an overt subsidy, partly out of fear of the public backlash.

"These poll results show that these fears could be unwarranted.

"The future of the UK new nuclear build programme is currently on a knife-edge. Without an agreed guaranteed commercially attractive long-term price for the electricity from new nuclear plants, and a suitable source of investment finance, there can be no progress on building new UK reactors.

"Government needs to provide more leadership and help on financing nuclear power if they are serious about a new-build programme in the UK and we are to see the development of nuclear plants at sites like Hinkley Point, Sizewell and Wylfa.

"These poll results suggest that the public want Government to take decisive action to support nuclear power."

He said all low-carbon technologies required high capital investment but have low operating costs, so the Government should provide incentives that appear to be a subsidy at the start but if structured correctly could be a good investment for the Government in the long run.

New nuclear projects could support thousands of jobs, secure low-carbon electricity supplies and provide billions of pounds of investment into the UK economy, he added.

The poll of 2,034 people by ICM also found that the main reason for backing nuclear power was because it ensured a secure supply of electricity, with 70% of those who supported new reactors citing it as a reason.

More than half (55%) said they supported nuclear because it was low carbon, while half said it was reliable and the same proportion said it provided jobs.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of those who oppose new nuclear power said they did so because it was dangerous, while almost as many (70%) cited issues relating to nuclear waste.

A recent report by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee warned that the legacy of nuclear waste from previous generations of reactors had been allowed to build up, with the cost of decommissioning Sellafield's nuclear waste site now running at £67.5 billion.