Govt pushes for ‘green’ nuclear power

The government stopped short of a full endorsement of nuclear power today as it set out the energy white paper.

In a bid to avert criticism from environmentalists and other opponents, ministers framed nuclear power stations as an environmentally friendly energy source.

Trade and industry minister Alistair Darling said energy saving and efficiency would be the government’s first priority, as well as pushing for more renewable energy with tidal and wind power schemes.

The white paper stopped short of setting out specific plans for nuclear power stations, but the government published a consultation document on the future use of nuclear power.

The government hopes energy companies will decide to invest in nuclear power. It is also insisting energy companies take more responsibility for encouraging consumers to reduce their energy use.

Mr Darling told MPs there is “no single answer” to energy efficiency, and argued the UK must be able to choose from a wide range of low carbon energy sources.

If the energy white paper is accepted in full, it will result in up to 33 million tonnes of carbon savings by 2020, he argued, equivalent to taking every car, van and lorry off the road.

The trade and industry secretary said earlier today he had initially been sceptical about nuclear power but was now convinced it could reduce carbon emissions and the UK’s dependence on unstable regimes.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Whether you like it or not, nuclear power is a low carbon-emitting source.

“To exclude nuclear would be a big mistake.”

The prime minister argued increasing the use of nuclear power will reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels, while also ensuring Britain has independent energy sources after supplies of North Sea gas and oil run out.

Writing in the Times Tony Blair said: “It is only right that we consider how nuclear power can help underpin the security of our energy supply without increasing our reliance on fossil fuels.”

However, the Liberal Democrats warn nuclear power will divert resources away from renewable energies.

Susan Kramer, Lib Dem trade and industry spokesman, said: “The government is in danger of missing the opportunity to tackle climate change without resorting to the expensive mistake of nuclear power.

“Directing focus and investment away from wind, wave and tidal power into nuclear will delay our ability to get to a fully-renewable system by decades.”

Ms Kramer warned of the hidden costs and potential dangers associated with nuclear power, and questioned what would be done with the radioactive waste.

Caroline Lucas, a British Green MEP, agreed nuclear power is not the answer to climate change, and instead increases the risk of nuclear war, terrorist attacks and accidents.

She described the plans as a “disaster for world peace and the environment”.

Last year the sustainable development commission, which advises the government on environmental issues, said there was no need for new nuclear power stations.

The costs and dangers of new plants outweigh any potential benefits, the commission concluded.

The UK currently has 24 working nuclear reactors, which generate nearly one-fifth of all energy used.