Wind power outpaces the atom

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WIND is about to overtake the atom as fuel for new power stations, detailed figures in an authoritative new report reveal.

The figures, published by Washington's prestigious Worldwatch Institute last week, show that almost as much new wind power as nuclear capacity came on stream worldwide in 1995. The report adds that - for the first time in over 40 years - work did not begin on a single nuclear power station anywhere in the world during the whole of last year, while wind power is now growing more rapidly than any other source of energy.

Senior analysts at the Institute predict that new windmills will outstrip new reactors globally within the next three years. In Britain, the transition has already taken place. No more nuclear power stations are to be built after Sizewell B, which started up last year. But next month National Power will open Europe's largest wind farm in mid Wales.

Tomorrow ministers will be asked to set a target of producing 10 per cent of the country's electricity from wind by the year 2025. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), which is launching a new campaign, says there is enough wind power available in Britain and its offshore waters to meet its present needs for electricity twice over.

The new report, Vital Signs 1996-97, (published by Earthscan at pounds 12.95) shows there was a net worldwide increase of only 1,800 megawatts in nuclear power capacity last year, once the amount lost from the closure or down- rating of old reactors was deducted from what was gained by the opening of new ones - a rise of only one per cent. Meanwhile, wind power capacity grew by 1,200 megawatts - a jump of 33 per cent, albeit from a very low base. The report says: "Although it still provides less than one per cent of the world's electricity, wind power is now the world's fastest growing energy source."

Construction did not begin on any new nuclear power stations last year for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age in the mid 1950s, an event the Institute describes as "a milestone". Work is expected to start on two new reactors in China this year, but the Institute expects this to be merely a blip.

"The nuclear industry is drying up," says Nicholas Lenssen, one of the authors of the report. "The only orders now coming through just represent the emptying of the pipeline."

Although atomic power stations will continue to operate for decades, it now seems certain that world nuclear capacity will peak at less than one tenth of the amount forecast for the year 2000 by the International Atomic Energy Agency 20 years ago. Already more planned capacity has been cancelled in the US than has been built.