The Government is to press ahead with the biggest nuclear programme for a generation, announcing yesterday eight sites where new reactors are planned. Environmentalists denounced the move, but a review of the proposals after the Fukushima disaster in Japan concluded there was no risk of a similar accident occurring in Britain.
The eight sites are: Bradwell, Essex; Hartlepool; Heysham, Lancashire; Hinkley Point, Somerset; Oldbury, South Gloucestershire; Sellafield, Cumbria; Sizewell, Suffolk; and Wylfa, Anglesey. The plans were announced by Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, despite his own opposition to nuclear energy. He has insisted that the new plants should not be subsidised by the taxpayer.
Ministers say the new reactors will maintain electricity supplies and cut greenhouse gas emissions as the old ones are shut down. The future of nuclear power was called into question earlier this year after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami rocked the reactors at Fukushima, causing radioactivity to leak from the plant.
Mr Huhne signalled last month that plans for new reactors were on track after an initial report on Fukushima from the nuclear chief inspector, Mike Weightman, concluded that the crisis in Japan had no implications for Britain. The plans are part of a series of national policy statements on energy published yesterday. These say billions of pounds must be invested in new energy sources, including 33 gigawatts of renewable power – equivalent to thousands of offshore wind turbines – to meet the UK's future needs.
Charles Hendry, the Energy Minister, said: "Around a quarter of the UK's generating capacity is due to close by the end of this decade. We need to replace this with secure, low carbon, affordable energy. This will require over £100bn of investment in electricity generation alone, twice what was invested last decade. Industry needs as much certainty as possible to make such big investments."
But Louise Hutchins, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said: "It's illogical, and possibly illegal, for the Government to keep pushing for a fleet of new nuclear reactors before we've even learned the lessons from the Fukushima meltdown.
"Countries around the world are dropping their nuclear programmes as costs soar. And a growing number of our European competitors have turned their backs on nuclear power after calculating that it's just not worth the risk. Naming sites won't give a solution to radioactive waste. And it won't stop nuclear power being eye-wateringly expensive."
Simon Bullock, who campaigns on energy for Friends of the Earth, said: "The Government is obsessed with putting a new nuclear millstone around Britain's neck. But nuclear is a gamble we don't need to take – we can meet our energy needs by investing in energy efficiency and developing the UK's vast potential for clean renewable power."
Nuclear power is one of the issues that divided Conservatives and Liberal Democrats when they entered Government together. The deal struck by the Coalition allowed Liberal Democrats to speak out against any new nuclear plants and the party's MPs to abstain on the issue.
However, there is a substantial majority in the Commons in favour of nuclear energy, so the plans look set to be approved.
New nuclear sites
Hartlepool, County Durham
Hinkley Point, Somerset