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10 Jan, 2008 22:31

Britain gives nuclear power the green light

The British government has approved a new generation of power stations, just years after apparently rejecting the idea. UK ministers now say evidence in support of nuclear energy is ‘compelling’. The British public is divided on the issue and environmenta

The decision was announced by Britain’s Secretary of State for Business John Hutton.

“Giving the go ahead today that nuclear power should play a role in providing the UK with clean, secure and affordable energy is in our country’s vital long-term interests. Set against the challenges of climate change and security of supply, the evidence in support of new nuclear power stations is compelling, ”he said.

Most of Britain’s 19 ageing reactors at ten existing nuclear power stations will soon close. They currently generate 20% of Britain’s electricity.

Coal-fired power plants will also be closed within the next five years.

And as global oil prices soared, the UK has moved from being an exporter of gas to being an importer. At the same time demand for electricity in Britain is continuing to grow.

Therefore, building new nuclear power stations would reduce the country’s dependence on imported energy.

Alan Duncan, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, says, “The thing about generating electricity is that we would like it to be coming from lots of different sources, so we are not just dependent on one source”.  

He says that in 20 years time there is a danger that Britain “would become more and more dependant on imported gas from wherever it comes”. And they’d like to be “more self-reliant.”

"In terms of Russian gas – yes there are a lot of people who are suspicious that Russia wants to use its gas exports as a political weapon. That’s not my view,'' Duncan added.

Bradwell power station on the Dengie peninsula was closed in 2002 after 40 years of operation. It might become one of the first sites for a new third-generation reactor with work on it starting as early as 2010.

It is just one of many Britain’s power stations that have already been decommissioned, with all but one to follow by 2023.

Environmentalists’ concerns  

However, environmentalists argue that building new reactors would not solve Britain’s energy problems and generations will be left with an expensive legacy of nuclear waste.

Roger Higman, Senior Campaigner for Friends of the Earth says they are “extremely disappointed that the government has decided to pursue the nuclear route”.

“Nuclear reactors produce waste that stays radioactive for tens of thousands of years and it’s an un-exportable solution to climate change because of the fears of Nuclear weapons proliferation,” he said.

The debate on cost and safety of nuclear energy is likely to continue, but now a new generation of nuclear power stations has officially been given the green light.