UK under pressure to approve new nuclear plants

23 November 2005

The UK Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has released a report calling for the government to deliver a coherent and integrated energy policy, including a prompt decision on the future for nuclear power in the country.

Publishing its paper, Powering the Future, the CBI said rising energy costs rising and concerns over winter gas supplies had pushed energy to the top of the business agenda. And, with a third of UK capacity requiring replacement by 2020, security of supply, cost and environmental consideration have become paramount issues.

The CBI is therefore calling on the government to get a coherent energy policy in place as a matter of urgency, including a decision within a year on whether to back a new generation of nuclear power stations. On nuclear power, the CBI paper says that the 10-year lead time for nuclear build and the lack of clarity from government so far means public debate must start without delay, and be concluded by the end of 2006. As part of that debate it calls on the government to commission immediately a definitive study on the economics of nuclear power relative to other sources, and to finalise swiftly its strategy for the disposal of existing and future nuclear waste. In addition, to ensure any positive decision on nuclear can then be delivered quickly, it also calls for the ‘pre-licencing’ of reactor designs, and for the scope of public planning enquiries to be limited to ‘site-specific’ issues.

Sir Digby Jones CBI director-general, said: “A decision on the future of nuclear power has been allowed to drift too long. Potential investors and the British public both deserve certainty. Nuclear’s position as a reliable, low-carbon energy source is without doubt, but understandable concerns exist about costs and waste. The prime minister has rightly promised a comprehensive debate on the future of nuclear power. The government must now deliver positive leadership to increase public awareness and ensure public ownership of the outcome.”

Jones, said: “Risk is an accepted fact of business life. But what users and producers of energy need, as in any marketplace, is a clear framework that lets them manage that risk in the most effective way. Government must grasp the nettle and make some tough decisions."

The moves by the CBI are supported by comments from Sir David King, the government’s chief scientific advisor, who suggested in a recent BBC interview that the UK is unlikely to meet its 2010 target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20%. King also told the BBC that the green light should be given for more nuclear reactors.

The growing weight of opinion in favour of new nuclear developments in the UK appears to be gaining influence in government with prime minister Tony Blair telling MPs: “The facts have changed over the last couple of years,” with regard to nuclear power.

Blair said Britain faces "difficult and controversial decisions" on climate change and energy supply with the government looking at all the options, including nuclear.

Blair has pledged a decision on new nuclear stations by the end of next year, but is now expected to set up a government review within the next two weeks asking it to reach conclusions by the early summer.

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