Nuclear review terms disputed

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Indy Politics
THREE government departments are still arguing about the detail of the nuclear power review, but Whitehall sources said it would be expanded to include the possible long-term environmental impact of privatising the industry.

The Department of Trade and Industry had sought a narrow inquiry into the feasibility of privatising, but the Treasury intervened because of fears about the long-term costs of decommissioning power stations and handling waste.

Those objections were reinforced by the Department of Environment, which also demanded that the terms of reference should include an environmental impact study. Sources say the review will include an environmental study, but it is likely to be limited.

The DTI, which includes energy, was keen to proceed with the review, which was promised by the end of last year. But the Independent also understands that a final announcement also has been delayed by the Government's lawyers, who are studying the detail of the High Court decision last Friday to give the go ahead to the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) at Sellafield, Cumbria.

Ministers are anxious to avoid announcing the terms of reference for the review until the lawyers are satisfied that there can be no further challenge by Greenpeace and Lancashire County Council to the Thorp plant.

Nuclear Electric, the English operating company, is pressing the Government to go ahead. It is offering the Government the prospect of keeping the nuclear levy to pay for the decommissioning of the Magnox power stations. Nuclear Electric has also assured ministers that it will be able to cope with the future costs of decommissioning Advanced gas-cooled reactors and Pressurised Water Reactors from its profits.

Those claims are treated with great scepticism by environmental lobby groups and some of the Government's own advisers. The Treasury is anxious to avoid a future government being forced to pick up the bill for cleaning up AGRs and PWRs with the waste, if the nuclear power industry fails to produce the levels of profits it is predicting.