Building new nuclear power stations in Britain will cost billions in "the ultimate stealth tax", Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell warned today.
New research by the party suggests that on top of the up to £90 billion cost of decommissioning existing plants, taxpayers will have to fork out billions in direct and indirect subsidies to the nuclear industry to persuade them to build new ones.
The government's energy review is due to report back this summer, but Tony Blair has already made clear he believes replacing Britain's ageing nuclear power plants is a vital part of the future energy mix, along with renewables and energy efficiency.
The Lib Dems are among those opposing the move, and today they published details of how nuclear power abroad is only being enabled by heavy subsidies.
The US congress approved a direct subsidy of $13.7 billion last year for a new generation of power stations, of which £2 billion is insurance against any building delays. The party notes that no British nuclear power project has been completed on time.
Meanwhile, the Finnish government has agreed to take responsibility for nuclear waste after 60 years, something the Lib Dems say could cost billions in Britain, while it is also providing indirect subsidies in the form of export guarantees and 30-year contracts.
"If the prime minister gets his way and a new generation of nuclear power stations are built, both the taxpayer and consumer will get stung again. Nuclear power is the ultimate stealth tax," Sir Menzies said.
He added: "The real question for the forthcoming energy review is, where will Blair hide his nuclear subsidy?"
Questioned by Sir Menzies on the issue in the Commons last week, the prime minister said times had changed since the 2003 energy white paper described nuclear energy as an unattractive option in terms of cost and waste.
He said energy prices were rising, making nuclear energy an issue across the world; anxiety about climate change and the need to find clean energy sources was rising; and security of supply meant Britain must find new domestic sources of power.
"I am not saying that nuclear is the only answer-of course it is not. There are renewables, energy efficiency and everything else," Mr Blair told MPs.
"However, I still think that nuclear must be at least part of the debate and argument if we are to make sure that our energy needs are properly and cleanly met for the future."
The Lib Dems argue that an improvement in energy efficiency, the use of microgeneration to create energy at a more local level, the use of renewables, carbon capture and green taxes would be enough to negate the need for nuclear.