British government considering new nuclear power stations

April 24, 2005

Advisers to British Prime Minister Tony Blair are suggesting that constructing new nuclear power stations would be the best way to meet the country's targets on reducing emissions of gases responsible for global warming.

The government has a near-term target of cutting emissions below 1997 levels by 20%, and a more ambitious target of a 60% cut by 2050. Critics of nuclear power say that it will not be able to help meet the 2010 target due to the length of time needed to plan, construct and commission such power plants. However backers say nuclear power will help meet the 60% cut by 2050 target.

Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the government, is a supporter of nuclear power believing that it is the best way to tackle global warming.

The chairman of British Nuclear Fuels, a company that operates several British nuclear reactors, said that he expects Tony Blair to make an announcement of new power stations within weeks of the May 5 general election if he is re-elected.

Another primary supporter of nuclear power is the ex-BBC Director General Lord Birt, who has been advising 10 Downing Street on various issues by providing 'blue-sky' thinking without payment, as part of the Strategy Unit. He is said to be preparing a report that will say nuclear energy provides an opportunity to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil supplies (although very little oil is burnt for electricity production in the UK).

While it is believed that senior Cabinet members would not oppose a plan for new nuclear power stations if Tony Blair proposed it, the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett and Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt both oppose nuclear power.

New reactors would probably be sited next to existing reactors to limit public opposition.

Nuclear power currently provides 22% of the UK's electricity needs. The UK has 31 operating reactors at 14 power plants, but by 2015 all but three stations will have been shut down. The last nuclear reactor to open was Sizewell B on the North Sea coast in 1995. The 1,188MW station was a large reason why the UK met its carbon dioxide emissions reduction target in the 1990s. British nuclear power stations have created 2,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste. There are currently no plans for the long-term storage of the waste.

By comparison, just over 3% of Britain's electricity comes from renewable energy. France met 78% of its electricity needs in 2002 using nuclear power.