A senior cabinet minister last night attacked government proposals to commission a new generation of nuclear power stations, arguing against their potential financial and environmental costs.
Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, gave his backing to renewable energy sources and warned that the public would not accept a "gung-ho" approach to nuclear power.
His aired his views just a few days after Tony Blair once again backed nuclear power, warning that without a homegrown nuclear industry, Britain could become dependent on foreign gas and oil within 20 years.
"The case for nuclear has still to be proven and we'll see what the energy review produces," said Mr Hain in an interview BBC2's Newsnight. "I am very clear that the lights have to be kept on, in 10, 15, 20 years time when this problem of supply really seriously hits us ... and if nuclear is the only way to fill it, well I'll reluctantly have to accept that.
"But if we get to that point without a massive ramping up of renewable energy then I don't think the public will support it," he said.
Mr Hain said there had been a "massive subsidy" of £70bn worth of liabilities from the old nuclear power programme. "We can never go down that road again because otherwise that would crowd out renewable energy. So if there has to be a new nuclear power station... it might be that is up to private developers. "
His sentiments are in stark contrast to those of the Prime Minister, who said this week: "The danger is you end up not only being dependent on imports, but on imports whose price you can't gauge.
"To take out of that nuclear power ... is a very, very big step for us to take and I would need a lot of convincing that renewables are going to fill the gap."