To Go Nuclear
By Marie Woolf
and Andrew Grice
23 April 2005
Street is drawing up secret plans to create a new generation of nuclear
power stations as the centrepiece of the Government's drive to combat
climate change. Tony Blair wants to avoid discussing the issue until
after the election and the No 10 review of Britain's energy needs is
not mentioned in the manifesto. But a team in the Strategy Unit, led
by Lord Birt, the former BBC director general and one of the Prime Minister's
closest advisers, is studying whether nuclear power should play a central
role in combating global warming.
The unit will produce
a report on climate change and how to protect energy supplies from threats
- such as oil shortages and a terrorist attack on Middle East pipelines.
"They are carefully framing the questions to get the answer they
want. The answer to both questions could be nuclear power," one
senior insider said yesterday.
The nuclear industry
has already held private discussions with Downing Street about a new
generation of power stations. Mr Blair is understood to be sympathetic
to the arguments advanced by Sir David King, the Government's chief
scientific adviser, who sees nuclear power as the best way to tackle
They discussed the
issue at a meeting late last year, but Mr Blair said any public debate
would have to wait until after the election.
The revival of the
prospect of nuclear power has split the Cabinet. Margaret Beckett, the
Environment Secretary, and Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary,
are believed to have serious reservations. Some figures in the nuclear
industry are lobbying for Ms Hewitt to be moved from her department
in a post-election reshuffle.
The Cabinet's most
senior ministers are thought unlikely to oppose the expansion of nuclear
power if Mr Blair proposes it.
Mr Blair's special adviser on industry matters, is among those said
to be promoting the case. "No 10 advisers and people in the Strategy
Unit are pushing it very strongly," said one senior source. "John
Birt and Geoffrey Norris, who has the ear of Tony Blair, are looking
The DTI and the
Environment department believe the Government should concentrate on
developing renewable energy, to tackle climate change.
The Government has
set a target of meeting 10 per cent of electricity from renewables by
2010. Critics of the nuclear option argue it would not help to achieve
the Government's goal of a 20 per cent cut in carbon dioxide levels
by 2010 because it would take too long to upgrade plants or build new
ones. But supporters say nuclear could help hit the more ambitious target
of a 60 per cent cut by 2050.
Backers of the nuclear
option are confident of victory but admit the hurdles are formidable.
A likely way to finance the move would be a form of public-private partnership
but the private sector might demand long-term energy contracts with
guaranteed fixed prices, before investing in nuclear.
To limit public
opposition, new reactors could be built next to decommissioned nuclear
Yesterday, Mrs Beckett
said the construction of new nuclear plants was not the Government's
preferred solution for meeting the growing demand for energy in an environmentally-friendly
manner. But she said: "We can't close down that option. It is possible
that, in the end, for climate change reasons, we would need to reconsider
Jean McSorley, senior
adviser, nuclear, at Greenpeace, said: "This plan is so far off
it is not an adequate response to climate change. There has been a huge
amount of lobbying by the nuclear industry over the past year."
©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.