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UK's Blair suggests mind made up on nuclear power

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, July 4 (Reuters) Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his firmest signal yet on Tuesday that a review of Britain's energy policy will call for the replacement of the country's ageing nuclear power stations.

''It's difficult for me to see, on the basis of the evidence now, that we can have secure energy supplies or tackle climate change effectively without replacing our nuclear power stations,'' Blair told a parliamentary committee.

Blair denied he was pre-judging the outcome of an energy policy review, whose findings environmentalists expect to be published next week, but he gave strong indications his mind was made up.

''Obviously if the review had come out with evidence that showed this (replacing nuclear) was a bad idea -- we haven't published the review yet, but the first cuts of it I've already talked about -- then of course my mind would be differently made up,'' he said.

''But I think when you look at the evidence it's very hard to see how you are going to get to where collectively as a country we've decided we want to be, namely with more secure energy supplies and tackling greenhouse gas emissions, without replacing nuclear power,'' he said.

''But if the review came out with evidence that showed that was a bad idea and that was not the way to go, well it wouldn't be what we would do,'' he said.

Blair faces strong opposition from some members of his own Labour Party to replacing Britain's nuclear power stations.

Blair, re-elected last year, has said he will not stand for a fourth term in general elections expected by 2009.

The future of nuclear power is one of the major decisions he will take before he steps down in the next year or two in favour of his expected successor, finance minister Gordon Brown.

OBJECTIONS TO COST, WASTE Supporters argue that nuclear power will help lessen Britain's growing dependence on imported energy and does not produce carbon emissions thought to contribute to global warming.

Objections focus on how to dispose of nuclear waste and the vast cost of building the up to 10 new nuclear power stations that would be needed.

Normally loyal cabinet minister Peter Hain expressed doubt last week about the need for a new generation of nuclear power plants, saying the public would not support such a policy without a ''massive ramping-up of renewable energy.'' Blair said the review would deal with energy efficiency and renewable energy ''every bit as radically as anything to do with nuclear'' and that people would be quite surprised at some of its conclusions in these areas.

Blair said he had changed his mind on the need to replace nuclear power stations since a 2003 energy policy review which said building new nuclear power stations was economically unattractive.

The doubling or trebling of energy prices in the last few years had driven energy policy to the top of the agenda of all major Western countries, Blair said.

Britain would in any case have to deal with decommissioning and disposing of nuclear waste from its existing power stations, but a new generation of nuclear power stations would generate only about 10 percent of the waste of the old ones, he said.

REUTERS DKS HS1738

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