Opposition changes tack and backs nuclear power plan

Energy companies announced plans yesterday to build a string of nuclear power stations across the United Kingdom and the Business Secretary, John Hutton, said Britain was entering a new era of nuclear construction.

In one of the most well-trailed government announcements of Gordon Brown's premiership, Mr Hutton told MPs he was inviting bids for a new generation of reactors. The response from the energy sector – and the country's leading environmental groups – was immediate.

The power giant EDF announced its intention to build four reactors, with the first completed within a decade. British Energy, which operates eight nuclear power plants, said it was considering plans for new reactors on its current sites, while the generating firm E.ON said it was determined to press ahead with new nuclear plants, notwithstanding the Government's insistence that no public subsidies will be forthcoming for the projects.

Environmentalists and some Labour MPs expressed outrage at the decision to allow a new generation of reactors, warning about the long-term dangers of cost and nuclear waste.

But the Tories performed a U-turn, dropping their policy that nuclear energy should be an option of "last resort" and backing plans to allow private firms to invest in the plants.

Ministers said firms would have to bear the full cost of storing any nuclear waste created by the power plants.

Environmentalists said a Green Paper on nuclear power published yesterday had heavily underestimated the cost of building new reactors and pointed to a pledge in the document to meet the cost of protecting the public "in extreme circumstances".

Mr Hutton said he was confident that nuclear power would make a significant contribution to making all of the country's electricity generation carbon neutral by 2050.

"It would be against the national interest," he said, "to rule out a tried and tested technology which is genuinely cleaner than virtually any other form of electricity generation." And it would be "bonkers" to abandon the nuclear option because it cannot provide all the answers to Britain's power needs. Arguing that it should be ruled out because it can't solve all problems was complete nonsense, he said.

Mr Hutton insisted he would not impose an "artificial cap" on the number of new nuclear power stations, arguing it would be for the market to decide whether they were economically viable.

Labour MPs lined up to criticise the new direction. Paul Flynn said: "Why on earth are we repeating the nuclear folly of past years when one power station was 15 years late, and there were vast cost overruns of £75bn in managing the waste. The new thinking on waste is to bury it in a hole in the ground which was the answer 40 years ago."

Chris Mullin, the former Home Office minister, said the nuclear industry had "a long history of misleading the public and previous governments about the costs, safety and aspects of waste disposal".

Colin Challen, Labour chairman of the all-party climate change group, added: "This statement is as full of holes as the Sellafield reprocessing plant."

Under the new Energy Bill published yesterday, companies will have to demonstrate they can fund the full costs of new nuclear plants including their eventual decommissioning. Companies will also have to pay for their waste to be stored or disposed of at a new national facility. Ministers will publish a consultation on waste storage next month.

Greenpeace warned that no nuclear power station had ever been built without subsidy and claimed that government estimates of the cost of building new plants were about half of what the true total will be.

Greenpeace's executive director, John Sauven, said: "This is bad news for Britain's energy security and bad news for our efforts to beat climate change. Nuclear power can only deliver a 4 per cent cut in emissions some time after 2025, and that's too little too late at too high a price."

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "We could meet our energy requirements by investing in cleaner, safer solutions such as renewables, combined heat and power, energy efficiency and the more efficient use of fossil fuels."

The key points

The White Paper contains a breakdown of possible costs, benefits, dangers and environmental implications of nuclear power. The 186-page document is also accompanied by a 300-page summary of responses to the Government's consultation on the issue.It argues that:

* Private firms should be invited to build a new generation of nuclear reactors, possibly opening from 2017

* There should be no cap on the number of future reactors

* There should be no subsidy for building, running or decommissioning costs

* Operators should pay the full cost of storing and disposing of the nuclear waste produced

* Lifetime carbon emissions from nuclear stations are low and the cheapest way of cutting carbon emissions from generating low carbon power

* New generation is needed as 22 gigawatts of nuclear and non-nuclear capacity is due to close within 20 years

* Nuclear will help secure long-term energy supplies as part of a diverse energy sector

* Without it more costly measures would be needed to secure needed cuts in carbon emissions

* A new underground waste storage repository would be the best way of storing waste, but new reactors can be built before a new underground facility is available for use.

* The Bill has plans to triple British renewable energy to 15 per cent of electricity by 2015.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower