Western Morning News, 9 June 2008

The first of a new wave of controversial nuclear reactors could be built in the West Country, after the world's largest nuclear energy provider bought land for the purpose.

EdF Energy says it is too early to comment on whether a plot near the existing nuclear power station, Hinkley Point B in Somerset , could host the first of the next generation of reactors in the UK . But, as one of only two sites the company has purchased so far, there is a chance that it could be up and running by 2017.

The existing plant, near Bridgwater in Somerset , is expected to close in 2016 - but EDF has earmarked land near the site as a possible site to build one of four new reactors it hopes to develop in the UK , between 2017 and 2025.

EdF Energy spokesman Kaa Holmes told the WMN the company believes the site is well-suited to the development because the geography is right and the infrastructure is already in place.

He said: "People living near existing reactors tend to be supportive. They have lived with them for a long time and it is a large part of their local economy."

But he said it was "very early days" and that construction would only start on the first UK site in around four years' time. Until then, a range of feasibility studies will have to be carried out and the site would have to be short listed by the Government as a possible option before a planning application could be lodged.

Mr Holmes stressed that there would be a number of opportunities for public consultation. He said the reactors featured a number of new safety and environmental features, as well as efficiency savings.

EdF Energy's parent company, EdF, already operates 19 nuclear sites in France , where it supplies more than 80 per cent of the country's power needs. Mr Holmes said: "We have a track record of more than 20 years operating that fleet safely. That expertise gives us the confidence that we are the right people to be building in the UK ."

The company's belief that nuclear energy must play a part in the provision of Britain's power supply in the face of dwindling coal and gas sources has been backed by Whitehall.

They claim it is vital to keep down prices in the face of rising oil costs and to ensure the UK is not reliant on other countries for production.

But campaigners believe nuclear is potentially dangerous to the environment and to health. They say more emphasis should be placed on safer renewables such as solar, wind and wave energy.

Jim Duffy, of the Stop Hinkley campaign, said studies had shown that the radiation emitted by nuclear generators could lead to cancer and a higher infant mortality rate. But EDF said no such studies had been verified by "credible health experts".

Mr Duffy warned there was no prototype of the new generation reactors, and said: "If you put all your eggs in one basket, you're a hostage to fortune. If you have a serious fault with these reactors, as we predict, and you have to shut them all down, suddenly a third of the national grid has disappeared."

But EdF says nuclear is only part of the solution, with renewables, coal and gas all playing a role in its target to produce 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2012 - enough to power one million homes.

It says the land they have bought in Somerset is large enough for one reactor, as is the other location at Wylfa in Wales - also near an existing nuclear plant. The firm is seeking land which could be suitable for two more reactors.

Ministers have said companies can invest in nuclear in the UK , but warned there would be no subsidies to build, decommission or manage waste.

Mr Holmes declined to comment on speculation that EdF was bidding to buy British Energy, which currently holds the UK 's nuclear contract.


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Page Updated 10-Jun-2008