- Downing 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 global warming.
- They discussed the issue at a meeting late last year,
but Mr Blair said any public debate would have to wait until after the
- 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.
- Geoffrey Norris, 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 at this."
- 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 plants.
- 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 that."
- 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.