Western Morning News, 4 January 2006

Anti-nuclear campaigners in the Westcountry last night urged Tony Blair to rethink his enthusiasm for a new wave of nuclear power stations - after it emerged that the cost of cleaning up existing sites could top £1,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Reports yesterday suggested that the cost of decommissioning Britain's 20 oldest nuclear sites could reach more than £70 billion over the next century - around 25 per cent higher than existing estimates.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, which is charged with cleaning up the sites, last night acknowledged that clean-up costs "will go up" from its initial estimate of £56 billion, which is itself equivalent to more than £800 for every person in the country.

The NDA said the cost of cleaning up the Hinkley Point A reactor in Somerset alone was likely to be at least £1.1 billion and could take almost 100 years. No estimate has yet been made of the cost of closing Hinkley Point B, where decommissioning is due to start in five years time. A spokesman for the agency said he "did not recognise" the £70 billion figure, published by the Independent newspaper after it said it saw confidential assessments carried out by environmental campaigners. The NDA spokesman said: "We have never made a secret of the fact that costs will go up - that is what has happened all over the world."

The revelations were seized on yesterday by anti-nuclear campaigners in the Westcountry, who are gearing up to block any attempt to build a third nuclear reactor on the Hinkley Point site. The Somerset site is considered one of the most likely locations for a new nuclear power station because planning permission has been given for a third reactor in the past.

Jim Duffy, spokesman for the Stop Hinkley group, said: "These figures just underline the fact that the economics of nuclear power do not add up . The decommissioning costs were originally supposed to be paid for from the electricity revenues. The Government's last energy review three years ago concluded that nuclear power was uneconomic and nothing has changed since."

The Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson said last month that any new nuclear reactors would not be subsidised by the taxpayer. But Mr Duffy said the new decommissioning figures provided further evidence that the industry could not survive without massive Government aid. He said: "It is quite clear that any prospective builder of nuclear power stations would have to come round with a begging bowl for further taxpayer handouts. That has to be part of any energy review, as do the concerns about safety factors and decommissioning.

"There will be a really strong backlash if Mr Blair decides to go down the nuclear route - not just from the public, but also from MPs. This is not going to be straightforward for the Government."

Mr Blair launched a new energy review last autumn, prompting widespread speculation that he is preparing to sanction a new generation of nuclear power stations. His chief scientific adviser Professor David King said the time had come to "give the green light" to nuclear.

Concerns over future gas supplies, coupled with fears about the UK's ability to hit climate change targets, are believed to have prompted the change of heart in Downing Street. A Downing Street spokesman yesterday said the new review, which is due out later this month, would address the issue of security of supply highlighted by this week's gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. He said: "There is an issue of security of supply, there was already before this event, and clearly this event underlines that issue."


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