Greenpeace protest on nuclear energy forces Blair to switch venue

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Indy Politics

In a speech delayed and disrupted by Greenpeace protesters, Tony Blair told the CBI that the prospect of building a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain was "back on the agenda with a vengeance".

Planning controls will be streamlined to speed up the construction of nuclear power stations if a fresh review of energy announced by Mr Blair gives the green light to a new generation of nuclear plants.

Cutting short established planning protocol will bring further protests from environmental lobby groups which are determined to fight the expansion of nuclear power.

Yesterday, just after 9am, two protesters from Greenpeace scaled the steel rafters of the Business Design Centre in Islington, north London, where the CBI conference was being held, and began showering the delegates below with anti-nuclear confetti ­ small squares of paper bearing the message "Nuclear Wrong Answer". The demonstrators, both seasoned climbers, then attached themselves to the rafters, unfurled an anti-nuclear banner and sat there, preventing Mr Blair from taking to the podium to announce his long-awaited review of nuclear power. The delegates eventually moved to a smaller room.

Speaking from a hastily erected podium, Mr Blair confirmed details of the energy review, saying: "Round the world, you can sense feverish rethinking. Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is producing a sense of urgency."

The review will be led by the Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, and will aim to publish a statement on future policy in the early summer of 2006. " It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations," Mr Blair said.

He acknowledged that nuclear power was a "difficult and challenging" issue, adding: "What we need is a serious debate, not one conducted by protest or demonstration to stop people expressing their views."

The Government will look at nuclear power along with renewables and coal, gas and new technologies as part of the review, Mr Wicks said.

The move, which comes nearly three years after the last landmark investigation into the country's power supplies, would also include transport and the role of energy efficiency. The aim of the review was to ensure "clean, reliable, affordable energy supplies for the long term", said Mr Wicks.

Stephen Tindale, director of Greenpeace UK, said: "Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change ­ it's costly, dangerous and a terrorist target. Just three years ago, Blair conducted the biggest energy review in 60 years, which concluded renewable energy and energy efficiency, not nuclear, is the way forward. Today's new review is a smokescreen for pushing his new-found enthusiasm for nuclear power."

Sir Digby Jones, CBI director general, said: "This country urgently needs a revamped and coherent energy policy which includes a clear decision on nuclear power. What matters to businesses is secure and affordable energy supplies for the long term, so that they can compete."

Mr Wicks gave a strong hint that the Government would try to structure the energy market to make nuclear power appear more competitive on economic grounds with alternative technologies, such as wind and wave power or gas.

"If we go down the nuclear road, then the economics of it will need to be considered very carefully. What is clear is the Treasury are not going to write the cheques. There will have to be private investment coming forward, but of course there will need to be some special relation between the market and the state in this area," Mr Wicks said.

A separate review has been ordered by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the Government Economic Service, which may challenge the Wicks inquiry findings.

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