Cameron turns back on nuclear power and looks to 'green energy'

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David Cameron will signal the end of the Tories' long love affair with nuclear power today by telling Conservative councillors to put themselves at the forefront of "a new green energy revolution".

The Conservative leader will say: "The future of energy is not top-down, it's not centralised - it's bottom-up and decentralised."

His remarks will disappoint environmentalists who had hoped the Conservatives would completely oppose the construction of any new nuclear power stations. But Mr Cameron's comments mean he has come out as more of a sceptic on nuclear power than Tony Blair, who admitted this week he has changed his mind and become convinced that the UK will still need nuclear energy after the present batch of ageing power stations have come to the end of their active life.

That contrasts with the 1980s, when the biggest champion of the nuclear industry was Margaret Thatcher, and its opponents were concentrated in the Labour Party.

The Prime Minister and the Conservative leader agree global warming is the Earth's greatest long-term threat but do not see eye to eye on whether nuclear power - which produces relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide - is a good way of combating it.

Mr Cameron will tell the Conservative Local Government Association conference in Bournemouth: "We need to waste less energy; to generate more energy locally, and to generate more energy from renewable sources.

"In Britain, we are still lumbered with the same backward-looking, central-planning mindset that has dominated thinking on electricity since the first half of the last century.

"Energy security is vital, but it is a myth it can only be provided from remote and inefficient power stations, or that electricity has to travel hundreds of miles to market. We need to spark a new green energy revolution in this country. We must remove the barriers that stand in the way of exciting innovation in fields like renewable and decentralised energy."

His comments coincide with a warning from a House of Lords committee that building new nuclear power stations is "difficult to justify" when the EU has done so little to reassure the public the resulting waste will be safely dealt with.

The Lords EU committee says in its report Managing Nuclear Safety published today: "If there is to be a policy of continuing or expanding nuclear use for future generations it must be allied to a determination by the EU to inform the public better about how high-level radioactive waste can be safely managed."

The Lords point out that the EU, as a trading bloc, is the world's biggest producer of nuclear energy.

Reactors produce 32 per cent of the EU's energy. Lithuania depends on nuclear power more than any other country in the world. In Austria, by contrast, there is a law banning the generation of nuclear power.

Several other members, including Germany, have decided to phase it out. But the UK's long awaited Energy Review, due this month, will argue for the retention of the power source.

The Government's committee on radioactive waste management will report this month on dealing with the waste over the long term. The Lords insisted that its recommendations should be dealt with "as a matter of urgency".