Tony Blair made it clear that "all options" would be considered to tackle climate change, including building a new generation of nuclear power stations.
The Government is to hold a full review of nuclear power and renewable energy sources - including clean coal - next year.
Malcolm Wicks, the Energy minister, said yesterday that it would be "more difficult" for Britain to meet its targets on cutting carbon emissions without nuclear power.
Speaking at a fringe meeting organised by the nuclear industry, Mr Wicks said the government was "keeping options open" about expanding the nuclear industry as a way of reducing global warming. "I think, in principle, we can meet our climate change targets without going down the nuclear route but it would be more difficult," Mr Wicks said. "I think it would help us tackle our challenge of climate change, all things being equal. But there is no silver bullet."
Mr Wicks is to lead the review into energy sources that will examine the cost of nuclear power and the role it can play in securing future energy supplies and tackling climate change.
Mr Blair has put his personal authority behind a fresh look at nuclear power as a way to cut carbon emissions. He also indicated it could help guarantee the security of future energy supplies in Britain, reducing reliance on oil and gas piped in from abroad.
His speech drew a furious reaction from green campaigners who said the Government would be foolhardy to presume nuclear power was the answer to reducing carbon emissions.
"There are far better solutions to our climate change problems than nuclear power that are cheaper, more sustainable and less dangerous," said Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth.
The Prime Minister is understood to want to resolve the issue of whether to build more nuclear power stations before he leaves office. Many of the unions are believed to be on board and, yesterday, Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of the T&G, indicated he favoured a fresh look at nuclear power to tackle climate change.
Mr Wicks said the civil nuclear issue would be resolved within three or four years. But he said the Government would not provide direct state subsidy to the nuclear industry to renew its ageing stock of nuclear power stations.
The nuclear issue has divided the Government, with Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, expressing concern that the question of how to deal with tons of nuclear waste has yet to be resolved. Others have raised fears that expanding nuclear energy could encourage nuclear proliferation worldwide and make it more difficult to criticise nuclear expansion in countries such as Iran.
Mr Blair has ordered his strategy unit to examine whether nuclear could be an answer to tackling global warming and is said personally to favour pursuing the technology.
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