7 July 2006, Western Daily Press, BY MARK FORD

Anti-nuclear campaigners have condemned high-level moves to make it easier for new atomic plants to be built in the West. The Government's long-awaited energy review is due next week and is expected to say new nuclear power stations are the answer to future energy needs.

Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling has now revealed planning laws may be "streamlined" so the reactors can be built more quickly.

His comments brought protest in Somerset, where Hinkley Point, on the Bristol Channel coast, is expected to be top of the list for a new power station.

Under the Government's plans local councils - in the case of Hinkley, West Somerset and Somerset County - would not be able to reject power plants on the grounds they were not needed. They could still influence the location and appearance through planning inquiries. But the Government also wants to put a time limit on inquiries, saying they have stalled several major projects.

"Given the fact we may need to replace a third of our electricity generation, there is a serious risk that one day we'll switch on the lights and there won't be electricity unless we deal with this planning problem," said Mr Darling.

But the proposals have been greeted with horror by those objecting to a possible Hinkley C power station.

Jim Duffy, spokesman for the Stop Hinkley group, said he believes the public would not stomach their views being ignored.

"If they are going to put a limit on the time for inquiries then people are not going to get their say.

"The last Hinkley C inquiry took 13 months, but that time was needed so everybody who might be affected by it could have their say.

"I don't think you can underestimate the resentment it would cause if that was changed, I don't think the public would accept it."

Yesterday's outrage came just a day after the Western Daily Press revealed the Government's own nuclear watchdog has raised concerns over the state of cracks in the graphite core in Hinkley B's reactors.

Campaigners, including Greenpeace, said it was evidence the power station should close for good, though British Energy insists the site is safe.

Decommissioning of Hinkley B is due to start in 2011, but in 1990 permission was given for a Hinkley C plant next door, despite opposition from environmental groups.

The power station was never built and permission has now lapsed. But because the principle has been established and the infrastructure is in place, the site is expected to feature prominently if a new generation of plants gets the green light.

Oldbury nuclear power station, beside the River Severn in Gloucestershire, is due to close in 2008 but is considered a less suitable site for new build.

Stop Hinkley Logo