A group of leading scientists yesterday warned the Government's plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations will end up in court.

The independent group published an 87-page document criticising Labour's approach to the controversial issue, ahead of a major announcement on Tuesday.

The Government is expected to back plans for reactors at existing nuclear sites, including Hinkley Point, near Bridgwater.

It will probably not say how many reactors it wants, leaving it to the nuclear industry to decide, but critics fear it could be as many as 20.

The independent group of scientists, academics and energy experts warns questions over the disposal of waste material and vulnerability to terrorist attack have not been answered.

And it criticises the way the Government consulted public opinion.

Dr Paul Dorfman, a former lecturer at the University of the West of England, Bristol , said: "We are profoundly concerned the Government's approach was designed to provide particular and limiting answers.

"Those answers risk locking in UK energy to an inflexible and vulnerable pathway that will prove unsustainable." The report says: "Significant issues were not consulted on in any meaningful way or resolved in practice.

"It has left the Government vulnerable to legal challenge and may lead to hostility and mistrust of any future energy decision.

"We conclude that the Government erred in asking the public to take a decision 'in principle' for more nuclear power when significant 'what if' issues were not consulted on in any meaningful way, or resolved in practice.

"These issues include uncertainty about: nuclear fuel supply and manufacture, vulnerability to attack, security and nuclear proliferation, radiation waste, radiation risk and health effects, reactor decommissioning, reactor design and siting, cost of electricity generating technologies, energy distribution models, true renewable and energy efficiency."

The report says companies proposing new nuclear power stations will look first - if not exclusively - to existing sites.

But each of the four favoured sites, Hinkley Point, Sizewell, Bradwell and Dungeness, has potential problems, according to the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University .

It has concluded: "Even the lowest estimates of sea level rise could significantly increase long-term dependence on expensive defences at the stations and have negative impacts on the physical stability of the coastal environment around the stations."

Greenpeace is likely to launch a legal challenge, arguing it would be unlawful to make a decision without knowing what would happen to the radioactive waste. The report was backed by the Stop Hinkley group, and spokesman Jim Duffy said: "These top academics are making a point the Government should hear.

"Their consultation paper was heavily loaded to favour nuclear power, skimming over or avoiding issues we find crucial.

"They've got a fight on their hands if they propose new nuclear build and a third Hinkley station in their announcement."

A Government spokesman said: "We gave people five months to respond to the consultation on the range of issues relating to nuclear power.

"Time is pressing - we need to make a decision on whether we should continue to get some of our electricity from nuclear energy, which is a low carbon form of making energy."


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Page Updated 05-Jan-2008