WE CAN'T RELY ON NUCLEAR POWER TO STOP ALL THE LIGHTS GOING OUT

Western Daily Press, 17 April 2006

Campaigners in the West have demanded Ministers ditch plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations after MPs warned of widespread electricity blackouts. The Government is expected to approve the construction of nuclear plants, including some in the West, to solve the impending energy crisis and cut pollution.

But a report from a powerful, all-party committee of MPs concluded the UK could not wait for another wave of nuclear power stations, which could take until 2030 to reach full generating capacity.

Almost a quarter of the country's current generating capacity is due to be decommissioned by 2016.

The report by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee said a new fleet of gas-fired power stations and renewable energy schemes, such as wind farms, would be required "if the lights are to stay on".

It is a huge blow for the Government's hopes of building new reactors at Hinkley Point, near Bridgwater, Somerset, and Oldbury in South Gloucestershire.

Philip Booth, of Gloucestershire Green Party, said: "The evidence against going down the nuclear route is overwhelming, this report should be another nail in its coffin. We cannot preach to other countries like Iran not to have nuclear power and then go down that route ourselves.

"The answer lies in reducing demand, energy efficiencies and renewable energies.

"Nuclear power is simply an expensive and polluting distraction to the sensible alternatives." Mr Booth said the report raised serious concerns about the possibility of terrorist attack and the huge expense of the nuclear option.

And Jim Duffy, co-ordinator of the Stop Hinkley campaign, added: "The Government already seem to have made up their minds about nuclear power, but they need to listen to this report. The less lauded part of the package is energy conservation. Britain could save 30 per cent of its net energy at nil net cost by using energy-saving light bulbs, proper insulation and banning manufacturers putting stand-by lights on TVs."

An application to build a wind farm at Hinkley was rejected last year, partly because of fears a section of a blade could break off and damage the nuclear plant. The result of an appeal against the decision is expected in November.

The Commons report said the first of any new nuclear plants would not come on stream until 2017 at the earliest, and the full generating capacity might not be available until 2030.

"Over the next nine years, therefore, very substantial investment in new generating capacity and energy efficiency will be required if the lights are to stay on, even in the absence of demand growth, " it said.

The committee said the shortfall would have to be met through an extensive programme of new gas-fired power stations, coupled with a growth in renewable energy sources such as wind power.

Issues concerning the disposal of nuclear waste, the future availability of uranium and the carbon emissions associated with nuclear power, as well as the public acceptability of such a programme, still needed to be dealt with.

The paper said it was scandalous that technologies such as carbon capture, which could drastically reduce emissions from fossil fuels, had been overlooked.

"With the possibilities afforded by energy efficiency, renewables, distributed generation, and carbon capture and storage, it is abundantly clear that new nuclear build is not the only option for lower-carbon electricity generation within the UK," the committee said.

The report added that the Government needed to explain to the public that cleaner energy would ultimately mean higher prices.

The committee chairman, Tim Yeo, urged Ministers to return to the strategy laid out in the Energy White Paper of 2003, which focused on energy efficiency and renewables as the cornerstones of a sustainable energy policy.

But former Energy Minister Brian Wilson, a long-time supporter of nuclear energy, said the Government should not have rejected the nuclear option in the first place.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry said: "We welcome the committee's carefully considered report and will give serious consideration to its recommendations.

"We particularly welcome the committee's support for the overall vision contained in the Energy White Paper, but we do not wish to be drawn into premature comment. We will consider all recommendations in the wider context of the energy review."

FACT FILE

  • The West has a long history of nuclear power, with stations in Berkeley and Oldbury in South Gloucestershire and Hinkley Point in Somerset.

  • Building work on Hinkley A - the original Magnox reactor - began in 1957 and the power station began generating electricity for the National Grid in 1965.

  • In May 2000, the reactor was shut down and the process of decommissioning began.

  • At one stage, there were two nuclear power stations at the site, after Hinkley B was built nearby. It will continue to generate electricity until it closes in 2011.

  • Planning permission for a third station at Hinkley Point was granted in 1990, but the Government did not go ahead.

  • Oldbury nuclear power station was established in 1968 and will close in 2008.

  • Along the Severn Estuary at Berkeley, the reactor opened in 1962 and was decommissioned in 1989

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