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Britain aims for nuclear, but greens query funding

Written by: Staff

LONDON, July 4 (Reuters) Britain is in a nuclear bind, environmentalists say, with the government keen to promote atomic energy but hard pressed to find funding after it said it will not use public money.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said a major review of UK energy policy, expected next week, will have to embrace a new generation of nuclear power plants. Blair says that will keep the lights burning and also help to cut global warming carbon emissions.

But ministers have also said they will not use government money to entice private enterprise to replace the ageing nuclear power plants which supply 20 per cent of the UK's electricity -- all but one of which will shut within a decade.

That is a crucial point when taken in the context of the 70 billion pounds now estimated as the cost to clean up the waste from Britain's existing nuclear plants, environmentalists say.

''The government has backed itself into a corner on nuclear power and has some fancy footwork to do to get out of it,'' Roger Higman, nuclear specialist at Friends of the Earth told Reuters.

''It has said there will be no public money. But it will look very foolish if it says we need nuclear power and no one in the industry then comes forward -- and no one will without some guarantees on pricing or clarity on planning,'' he added.

Generators including British Energy and EdF have said they would be prepared to commit private finance to building new nuclear plants in Britain -- as long as they can get long-term contracts guaranteeing prices.

Analysts say that this would be a subsidy by another name.

Environmentalists expect the review to be published on July 11 or 12, but the Department of Trade and Industry which is conducting the study said no date had yet been set.

However, a spokesman did say the review would contain concrete policy proposals.

''We understand that the review will have a major chunk on nuclear power and pay lip service to micro-generation, combined heat and power, carbon capture and storage, renewables and energy efficiency to soften the blow,'' a WWF spokeswoman said.

''It will be fascinating to see how it manages to promote nuclear power without committing public money,'' she added.

ENERGY SECURITY Nuclear power generation, unlike coal, oil and gas does not emit the carbon gases blamed for pushing up global temperatures leading to droughts, floods and increasingly violent storms.

However, there is continued public concern over nuclear waste which remains highly toxic for generations.

A government-appointed committee on waste disposal said in draft conclusions in April that storing it deep underground forever was the answer -- a recommendation it is expected to endorse later this month.

With volatile oil prices because of unrest in the West Asia and fears about gas supplies after major exporter Russia briefly switched off its pipeline in December in a row with Ukraine, security of energy supply is also a major issue.

The nuclear industry says it has the answer in that uranium fuel can be stockpiled for years -- a point that energy analyst Kevin Anderson at the Tyndal Centre for Climate Change Research said would weigh heavily in the government's calculations.

There is also the issue of streamlining the planning process in view of the 17 years it took to start work on the Sizewell B plant after the government's declaration of intent in 1980.

The government is looking into the pre-licensing of reactor designs to help short-circuit the process, and a report today proposed speeding up the local planning process to make business forward planning easier.


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