Western Morning News, 23 November 2005

Any attempt to build a new nuclear power station in the Westcountry will face massive opposition from local communities, campaigners warned last night. In a foretaste of the looming battle over the future of nuclear power, campaigners opposed to the Hinkley Point power station in Somerset said they would exploit every possible avenue to prevent the construction of a third nuclear reactor at the site.

Jim Duffy, of the Stop Hinkley group, said the power station, which still produces 1.2 megawatts of electricity for the national grid, should be closed rather than expanded.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Conservative MP for Bridgwater, said that only a "handful" of local people were opposed to the Hinkley plant, which employs around 600 people and contributes up to £30 million to the local economy.

But Mr Duffy said there were serious concerns about the safety of the plant and about potential health and environmental problems related to nuclear activity. He said local polls showed that more than 80 per cent of people were opposed to the plant. "Local reaction will be very hostile to any idea of building a new power station on the site," he said. "Polls show that the overwhelming majority of people in the area want to see the existing power station closed. This is a rural, agricultural area where there are no other big employers. But even those who work at the power station would rather work somewhere safer. It does not belong here."

Speculation has mounted this week about the possibility of a new power station at Hinkley Point amid signs that Tony Blair is poised to order the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors to combat climate change and energy shortages.

Mr Blair refused to be drawn on the issue in details yesterday, although he conceded that the Government would have to take some "difficult and controversial" decisions on the issue.

A Government energy review two years ago described the idea of a new generation of nuclear power stations as an "unattractive option", although it did not completely rule it out. But Mr Blair said people were coming round to the nuclear option again "because the facts have changed". In particular he said that concerns about climate change and energy security meant it was right to look at the nuclear issue again.

Hinkley Point is seen as one of the most likely sites for a new nuclear power station because planning permission has already been granted for a new reactor on the site. Although the permission has now lapsed, the site and infrastructure remain in place. Some reports have suggested that the Government may attempt to change planning laws and bypass the approval process of a new generation of reactors in order to speed the development of new power stations, which can take years to win approval under existing laws.

Mr Duffy said local people would be "up in arms" if the Government attempted to short-circuit the process. And he dismissed Mr Blair's suggestion that nuclear was needed to tackle climate change - pointing out that greater energy efficiency in household use and transport could make a greater contribution.


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