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New era of nuclear power

PUBLISHED: 09:21 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 19:23 05 July 2010

A new nuclear era was ushered in yesterday as the government approved a multi-billion-pound programme to build new power plants - with East Anglia at the heart of ministers' plans.

A new nuclear era was ushered in yesterday as the government approved a multi-billion-pound programme to build new power plants - with East Anglia at the heart of ministers' plans.

The cabinet is understood to have agreed in principle - unanimously and without a formal vote - that Britain should have a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Business secretary John Hutton will formally announce the decision tomorrow in a statement to MPs about Britain's future energy needs.

Industry insiders confirmed Sizewell in Suffolk, which is already home to two power stations, tops the table of preferred sites for the first of the new generation.

But the government will look to the private sector to pay for the new power stations.

John McNamara, spokesman for the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “The government made no secret of the fact - even though the public consultation had to be repeated following a legal challenge by Greenpeace - that work to identify sites and on regulation had still been going on.

“There may well be something about siting in Thursday's announcement and there is speculation that the top two sites in the UK have been identified as Sizewell and Hinkley in Somerset.”

The UK currently generates 20pc of its electricity from nuclear plants - with a further 5pc imported from France - but all but one of the plants is due to be decommissioned by 2023, potentially leaving a gap in the country's supply.

Sizewell C - or a Bradwell B in Essex - could take up to five years to build at a cost of an estimated £3bn, with the potential for 500-600 jobs.

Once plants are built, generating nuclear power produces hardly any carbon emissions, but it is unpopular with environmentalists, not least because of the problem of disposing of radioactive waste.

There are also fears about the costs involved with building and running new nuclear - and green campaigners have called for the money to be spent instead on renewable energy sources, such as wind power.

Rupert Read, Norwich Green Party councillor, said: “The bottom line here is that the British taxpayer, and the British energy-consumer, is going to pay through the nose if there are new nuclear power stations built in this country.

“Never forget that the reason that we stopped building nuclear power stations, a generation ago, is a very simple one: they are uneconomic.”

New planning guidance, also expected to be announced tomorrow as part of the package, could mean a streamlined system which could fast-track new plants and other large scale projects such as wind farms, roads and even airports.

Mr McNamara added: “During the 300 plus days of the public inquiry into Sizewell B only 15-18 of them were about local issues. The rest were about national concerns over whether the UK wanted more nuclear power. The new measures should standardise the inquiry process but that does not mean that local residents will not have their say.”

Despite stating in 2003 that nuclear power was an “unattractive option”, three years later, the government announced it would support new builds and that nuclear would “make a significant contribution to meeting our energy goals”.

Charles Barnett, chairman of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, said: “Any more nuclear power would be a disaster for this country because the investment in a new nuclear fleet would ultimately be at the cost of the taxpayer and will divert resources away from renewable energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency.

“Only the foolhardy would embark on a programme of new nuclear power.”

As reported in December, the government also gave the green light to opening up the UK's coast to up to 33 gigawatts of offshore wind turbines.

But Marcus Armes, from the UEA based CRed carbon reduction campaign, said: “CRed is keen to push the government to consider diverting funds from subsiding the nuclear industry into far more resources for low carbon technologies, both renewable energy applications (such as wind, tidal and solar) and energy efficient appliances.

“Nevertheless, we need to be realistic and even with a massive energy saving and renewable energy programme in place we will still need a small element of nuclear or clean coal generation if we are to ensure the lights stay on. The important thing is to prioritise energy use reduction and not look to go on as we are in the misplaced belief that nuclear and gas imported from Russia will bail us out - it won't.”

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