Nuclear power to be issue in leadership battle

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Labour MPs vowed last night to make nuclear energy an issue in the forthcoming leadership election after the Cabinet gave the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The cabinet committee overseeing the issue approved the inclusion of nuclear power in the energy White Paper to be published this month.

The review under Malcolm Wicks, the Energy minister, is also expected to recommend streamlining the planning system to enable the power stations to be built on existing sites more quickly.

Nuclear power will be "sold" by ministers as part of a balanced energy policy which will include greater emphasis on the development of renewable power sources such as wind turbines and wave power, and more energy efficiency.

"There is a bit more work to be done, but I don't see it being changed much now," said a government source.

Labour rebels said that they intended to challenge Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, on the issue when he takes over from Tony Blair, which many expect will be soon after Labour's annual conference in September.

Michael Meacher, a former environment minister, is likely to make opposition to nuclear energy a key part of his leadership challenge to Mr Brown, if he can get sufficient nominations.

Mr Brown's support last week for a new generation of British nuclear weapons will increase the determination of some Labour MPs, such as Clare Short, to back a challenger. Mr Meacher has told allies he wants to campaign on a wide-ranging agenda which focuses on green issues.

"Nuclear energy has now become a central issue for the succession," said Alan Simpson, a member of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs. "The more Gordon Brown drapes himself in the clothes of Tomorrow's World, the more he looks like Yesterday's Man. There is a growing fear now that he is going to lead us into a hung Parliament."

The anti-nuclear campaigners will challenge the Chancellor over the long-term costs of nuclear power, saying it amounts to robbing the taxpayer to subsidise nuclear energy.