Tony Blair has given the strongest hint yet that the government will be replacing Britain's ageing nuclear power plants.
In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) last night, the prime minister said nuclear power was "back on the agenda with a vengeance".
Mr Blair warned that Britain is becoming increasingly reliant on gas imports, mostly from the Middle East, Africa and Russia, and said these "stark facts" meant there must be a push on both nuclear power and renewable energy such as wind power.
"These facts put the replacement of nuclear power stations, a big push on renewables and a step change on energy efficiency, engaging both business and consumers, back on the agenda with a vengeance," he said.
Mr Blair's comments come after he was shown the first progress report from the government's energy review, due for publication in July.
His announcement was welcomed by CBI director general Digby Jones, who said the prime minister was "absolutely right" to put nuclear power firmly on the agenda.
Brave decisions were needed on how to deliver affordable and secure power while also protecting the environment, he said, and nuclear power "may well form part of the solution".
However, environmental groups reacted with outrage to the announcement, and accused Mr Blair of pre-empting the energy review's final results.
Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said it looked as if the consultation had been a "complete sham", and that Mr Blair had been "fixated" with nuclear power all along.
Greenpeace executive director Stephen Tindale added: "Nuclear power presents a real terrorist threat, costs a stupid amount of money, doesn't help in the fight against climate change and certainly won't plug the energy gap."
The Conservatives were similarly sceptical, saying Mr Blair's comments came as "no surprise" and only proved that the energy review had been a "smokescreen all along".
"What on earth is the point of an energy review, when all he ever wanted to do was to say that you will be having nuclear power whether you like it or not?" asked shadow trade and industry secretary Alan Duncan.
"The government has failed to meet its own targets on carbon emissions and it has not agreed policy for dealing with nuclear waste. Yet still its solution is a headline-grabbing announcement which ignores the fundamental concerns of the British public."