YOU CAN'T SHUT US OUT OF NUCLEAR POWER DEBATE

Western Daily Press, 22 May 2006

Anti-nuclear campaigners yesterday spoke of their fears that the Government may back suggestions to "fast track" plans for new nuclear plants. There are fears speeding up the process for designing and siting reactors would sideline community views and opposition. But it is believed this is one of the options being considered by the Government inquiry Energy Review, which is looking at the feasibility of a new wave of nuclear power plants.

It has been suggested the nuclear lobby wants pre-licensed designs and sites for new power plants. This would cut massively the time it takes to get nuclear plants approved - but it is also sure to cause huge controversy.

The Department of Trade and Industry, which is running the inquiry, yesterday said all options were being considered and nothing had been chosen yet.

But in the West campaigners said they were worried deeply about the findings of the review which will be delivered in July.

It remains a contentious issue in the region thanks to the nuclear stations Hinkley Point B in Somerset, Oldbury near Bristol, which will be closed in two years time, and the decommissioned station at Berkeley in Gloucestershire.

In Somerset, where many residents have waged a long campaign against Hinkley Point B Power Station, campaigners said they were not surprised by the suggestion.

Jim Duffy, co-ordinator of the Stop Hinkley campaign group said: "It is vital that the planning and licensing stages are open and transparent. They want to shorten planning and licensing because obviously it is very costly for the companies. What the industry wants to do is take the licensing process, which normally takes about four years and discusses design and safety issues, and change it so it is not discussed in public.

"At the moment the licensing happens first before the planning and it is a relatively open process. That's national democracy in action but that is going to be curtailed and it will be a charade."

THERE are concerns that Tony Blair's recent strong backing for nuclear power will re-ignite plans for another reactor at Hinkley Point.

Permission was given in 1990 for a Hinkley C plant next to the existing B reactors, despite strong opposition from environmentalists. The new power station was never built and permission has now lapsed, but it is expected that the site will feature prominently if a new nuclear programme gets the go-ahead.

Getting permission to build a nuclear power station takes years in Britain, but in France takes an average of four months.

Less than a fortnight ago, Mr Blair declared the debate about nuclear power is "back on the agenda with a vengeance".

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said the Prime Minister wants to get the new power plants forced through even if there is fierce local opposition.

He said if current policy remained unchanged there would be a "dramatic gap" on targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, forcing Britain to become heavily dependent on gas.

"Mr Blair knows that if the nuclear industry was exposed to proper scrutiny through the release of information and proper public inquiries, it would be stopped, " said Mr Baker.

"Nuclear power is being rammed through and public participation in the process being completely subverted. It is fundamentally undemocratic." But the nuclear lobby is putting pressure on Mr Blair to speed up the process for new nuclear stations.

In submissions to the Energy Review, British Energy, which runs Hinkley Point B, said: "If the Government wishes the private sector to finance and construct new nuclear power stations, there will need to be a high level of confidence in the time-scale and outcome of the consent process." But the suggestion horrifies Friends of the Earth. A spokesman said: "The industry is trying all sorts of tricks to curtail the public's right to comment on sites, designs and safety measures."

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.

http://www.westpress.co.uk/

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