Gordon Brown has signalled he wants Britain to play a major role in the race to build an extra 1,000 nuclear power stations across the world as part of his vision for ending the global "addiction to oil". The Prime Minister, who will be flying to Saudia Arabia for an emergency oil summit next week, said in spite of the risks of terrorism, Africa could build nuclear power plants to meet growing demands for energy.
He promised that by the end of the month the Government would publish its plans for a 700 per cent increase in energy from renewable sources such as wind farms, wave power, biomass, and solar energy.
But he made it clear that nuclear must play an increasing role in Britain's energy. Not since Margaret Thatcher returned from a visit to see the French nuclear plants has a prime minister shown such enthusiasm for nuclear power.
Mr Brown said the turning point had been the steep rise in the global price of oil, which had caused fears about energy security and left nuclear energy looking less prohibitively expensive than in the past. He castigated anti-nuclear protesters, saying that if they had their way, a ban on the development of nuclear power would accelerate climate change and lead to more global poverty as the seas rose, and developing countries were hit by extreme weather.
His comments came as the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, outlined plans to offer communities money to provide burial sites for nuclear waste. Areas of the UK which offered sites would become involved in a "multibillion-pound" project which would bring benefits such as hundreds of new, skilled jobs.
But critics accused the Government of offering "bribes" for taking waste which will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
The new rush by Britain to embrace nuclear power was underlined by the Business Secretary, John Hutton, at a conference for investors in nuclear power.
He announced the creation of a new Office of Nuclear Development, within the Department for Business, to build more effective cross-government working on nuclear energy. There will also be a Nuclear Development Forum, chaired by the Secretary of State, bringing together government and the industry, to discuss key issues and maintain momentum as nuclear new build grows.
However, Mr Brown admitted that the Government is still wrestling with the £73bn problem of dealing with the waste from Britain's existing nuclear power plants.
Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, announced a scheme to invite communities to bid for the waste to be stored in deep geological tunnels in their area in return for an estimated £1bn of taxpayers' money to be invested in their region.
Green groups immediately attacked the plan as bribery. Caroline Lucas MEP whose South-East England constituency is home to two nuclear power plants at Dungeness, said: "Brown's bung-and-bribe strategy shows that he knows just how unworkable his nuclear plans really are."