Britain ends consultation on new nuclear power

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LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - The British government's legally forced public consultation on whether it should give the green light to a new fleet of nuclear power stations to fight global warming ends tomorrow with the process deep in controversy.

By coincidence, tomorrow is also the 50th anniversary of Britain's worst nuclear accident when the reactor core at the Windscale plant in north western England caught fire sending a plume of radioactive material across the country.

Greenpeace, which earlier this year won a court case forcing the government to embark on a new public consultation process, has already lodged a formal complaint about the way it has been conducted and is contemplating going back to court again.

And a group of leading British academics have put their names to a report to be issued shortly complaining the process was biased in favour of new nuclear plants from the outset with slanted information and key facts missing or deeply buried.

''There is deep disquiet about the form and function of the consultations,'' said report author Paul Dorfman of Warwick University.

''We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke - to make a decision on the validity of new nuclear build when questions on key issues of waste, siting, reactor design and safety have not been resolved.'' Environmentalists also note that new nuclear plants would only cut the country's carbon emissions by four percent which, they say, is far too small a benefit compared to the problem of nuclear waste that remains deadly for thousands of years.

FUNDING The government has repeatedly said the country needs to replace its ageing fleet of nuclear reactors to help fight climate change, help meet its obligation to cut carbon emissions and help guarantee security of energy supplies.

Nuclear power plants currently provide 18 percent of the Britain's electricity. But all bar one of the plants is due to close within 15 years.

French utility EDF Energy - whose parent company runs France's fleet of nuclear power plants supplying 78 percent of the country's electricity - says it wants to build four nuclear plants in Britain.

Optimistically it also says that if it gets the green light from government later this year it could have the first plant functioning by 2017.

The government has said no public money will be involved in nuclear new build but it is already in the process of stripping away planning laws that delayed for years Sizewell B, Britain's newest nuclear power plant.

In 2003 the government promised it would sample public opinion before giving the nuclear go-ahead, and it did conduct a superficial public consultation earlier this year when it came out in favour of nuclear new build.

Greenpeace lodged a legal complaint and in February a High Court judge ruled in favour of the group, describing the process as deeply flawed.

This time round there have been nine one-day public consultation events run for the government by public research firm Opinion Leader.

It is these events that Greenpeace has already complained about to the Market Research Standards Board, claiming that the information presented and tone used was deliberately skewed.

However, the group has undermined its own moral authority by not immediately going back to court despite its condemnation of the consultation process, chosing instead to wait to see if the government changes its mind on new nuclear.

REUTERS ARB RAI0907

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