Liberal Democrats press for end to nuclear subsidy

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THE MARKET for coal should be held at 60 million tons for five years by a radical run-down in nuclear powered generation, the Liberal Democrats proposed yesterday.

The electricity industry should also be reorganised to promote competition, with privatisation of British Coal postponed at least for this Parliament, Simon Hughes, the party's environment spokesman, said.

The combination of reduced reliance on nuclear power, a job-creating energy efficiency programme and a scheme to produce 20 per cent of electricity from renewables within 15 years would allow Britain to hit carbon-dioxide emission targets while retaining coal at its present level for five years, followed by a 10-year run-down to around 30 million tons, the party says.

That could be done without a direct subsidy to coal, Mr Hughes argued. 'The need is not to subsidise coal but to remove the subsidy from the nuclear,' he said.

In a 'white paper' on energy, the party says that half the Magnox nuclear stations should be shut and the pounds 1.2bn subsidy to the nuclear industry phased out by 1998.

In addition, the contract that takes French nuclear power on the cross-Channel link should not be renewed. Existing pit- head stocks of coal should be sold cheaply.

The Government's review of nuclear power, planned for next year, needed to be brought forward into the current review, Mr Hughes said - arguing that job losses in the nuclear industry that would flow from the party's proposals would be more than offset by those created in an energy-efficiency and renewables programme. He went on: 'It is quite possible to have a 60 million ton market for coal over the next five years, with a gradual reduction to 30 million tons in the 10 years that follow.'

The paper says that National Power and PowerGen should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission with the aim of splitting them into competing units, while the regional electricity companies should be barred from generating.

Until that happened, Mr Hughes argued, there should be no privatisation of coal.

The measures would produce an environmentally sensitive energy policy with security of supply while keeping most of the 31 pits threatened with closure in operation over the next five years, he said.

Power for the People; Alternative White Paper on Energy and the Environment; Liberal Democrats; 4 Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB.

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