Wednesday May 23, 2007
The government is to push ahead with proposals to build a new generation of commercially built nuclear power stations, the industry secretary, Alistair Darling, told parliament this afternoon.
"We have reached the preliminary view that it would be in the public interest to give the private sector the option of investing in new nuclear power stations," Mr Darling told the Commons. Ministers would consult on the "significant role" new nuclear power stations could play in cutting greenhouse emissions and diversifying power supplies, he said, introducing the government's new energy white paper, Meeting the Energy Challenge.
This document additionally lays out a series of commitments on energy efficiency and other green measures, among them a target of 15% for the amount of electricity produced using renewable sources by 2015.
The government today also published a separate consultation document on nuclear energy.
While this gives interested groups until October 10 to submit their views, it makes the government's view on the issue clear, arguing that a decision on new nuclear capacity is needed soon, and that it is a viable option.
Ministers had concluded that "preventing energy companies from investing in new nuclear power stations would increase the risk of not achieving our long-term climate change and energy security goals, or achieving them at higher cost", the paper says.
Greenpeace - which forced the publication of the white paper to be delayed from March after it mounted a court challenge - immediately condemned the conclusions, saying ministers were neglecting viable alternative energy sources.
"The government has tinkered with its failing energy efficiency and renewables policy while indulging its nuclear obsession," said Greenpeace director John Sauven.
"If ministers go down the nuclear route, they will strangle the new, clean energy technologies of the investment and political support they need."
Today's announcement comes as little surprise, given Tony Blair's much-repeated insistence that nuclear power is a vital component in ensuring the UK both cuts its emissions of greenhouse gases and maintains secure energy supplies in an era of declining North Sea oil and gas production.
"It is right that we consider how nuclear power can help to underpin the security of our energy supply without increasing our reliance on fossil fuels," he wrote in an article for today's Times.
However, Mr Blair - and his equally nuclear-keen successor, Gordon Brown - are likely to face considerable unrest on the issue from some Labour backbenchers, as well as MPs from other parties.
In a letter published in today's Guardian, a group of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs warned against being "politically panicked into accepting a technology that poses a continuing risk in terms of weapons proliferation and terrorism", among other drawbacks.
Mr Darling told MPs that a decision on future nuclear power plants had to be taken this year, noting that around a third of the UK's current electricity generation capacity would become defunct within the next decade or so, while the lead-in times for new nuclear plants meant they would not make a significant contribution before around 2020.
Without new nuclear facilities, "there is every chance" the gap will instead be filled with power stations burning fossil fuels, he added.
At a later press conference the minister stressed that the government had to plan to use a mixture of energy sources.
"My firm view is that nuclear does need to be part of that - to exclude it as an option makes no sense at all," he said.
An earlier energy white paper in February 2003 highlighted the lack of planned new nuclear plants but was equivocal about the technology, saying "its current economics make it an unattractive option for new, carbon-free generating capacity" and that there were also issues involving waste. However, today's paper noted that the urgency of tackling climate change and a growing UK reliance on energy imports meant this had changed and that new waste disposal technologies now existed.
Opponents say the consultation thus far has been largely a sham, with all the major decisions on the issue long ago taken.
Mr Blair's official spokesman insisted today that other opinions were being listened to, but that the arguments for nuclear power were simply too strong.
"The consultation is real, but, equally, the analysis is real," he said.
"And the analysis is very clear: that we are increasing the renewable sector substantially, we are investing in clean coal technology, but all of that will not fill the gap left by 20% of our current electricity needs being met by nuclear, and that those stations need to be renewed within the next 15 years."
Nuclear power is needed to help reduce carbon emissions and to ensure that the UK has secure energy supplies in the future, the prime minister has said.
"We are not going to be able to make up through wind farms all the deficit on nuclear power," Tony Blair told MPs.
The government's Energy White Paper has backed renewable energy and efficiency measures - but said the "preliminary view" supports more nuclear plants.
Critics said more nuclear power could be a "dirty white elephant".
They also said a new consultation launched on the merits of nuclear power was a "farce".
Industry Secretary Alistair Darling told MPs a decision on nuclear power was needed by the end of the year because many nuclear and coal-fired power stations were due to close within 20 years.
Other key points include:
Free "real time" displays given on request to show homeowners how much electricity they are using.
Working with industry to "phase out" inefficient goods such as energy-consuming standby switches.
Tougher environmental standards for new build homes, and other products.
Consultation launched on possible sites for new nuclear plants - based on assumption environmental impact is not "significantly different" to other forms of energy generation.
Triple the amount of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and wave by 2015.
Set up the world's first carbon trading scheme for large organisations such as banks and government departments.
Encourage mining of UK coal where it is economically and environmentally appropriate to reduce reliance on exports.
Mr Darling said the measures outlined could save between 22 million and 33 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2020.
He said he wanted British industry to be at the forefront of new, green technologies, but added: "We can't become a low carbon economy in a single step."
The government had reached a preliminary view that it would be in the public interest to allow energy companies to invest in nuclear power, he said.
But, although the work done to identify possible site, he said no final decision would be made until the consultation ends in October.
However, Lib Dem trade and industry spokeswoman Susan Kramer said: "This consultation is a total farce. Ministers have clearly already decided to back nuclear."
Before the statement was published, Mr Blair told MPs at prime minister's questions: "If we want to have secure energy supplies and reduce CO2 emissions, we have got to put the issue of nuclear power on the agenda."
Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell had accused him of appearing to "disregard the issue of risk and cost and toxic waste" and asked for more investment in renewable energy and "clean coal technology".
The planning process for power stations is set to be streamlined by changes outlined on Monday.
And Chancellor Gordon Brown - who will take over as prime minister in June - is also thought to back building more nuclear power stations.
The White Paper was to be published in March, but the government was told to consult again after a legal challenge by environmental campaign group Greenpeace.
The Lib Dems, and some environmental groups, said that allowing new nuclear power stations to be built would draw investment away from renewable energy and other "green technologies" - like carbon capture.
Friends of the Earth's Roger Higman told the BBC: "The fear we have is that by investing in nuclear, we will invest in a dangerous, dirty white elephant."
For the Green Party, Caroline Lucas said: "By prioritising the construction of new nuclear power stations over reducing demand for energy ... the government is not only missing a trick, it is undermining efforts to tackle climate change."
Shadow trade and industry secretary Alan Duncan said: "Whatever the rhetoric, there is nothing in this White Paper that will guarantee that a single nuclear power station will be built."
"Business will only invest in nuclear power if it knows its costs - it needs certainty about carbon, decommissioning, and waste."
The Tories are in favour of nuclear power as a last resort but oppose subsidies or price guarantees for nuclear firms.
Reuters: BP Abandons Plans to Build UK Carbon Capture Plant UK: May 24, 2007
LONDON - British oil company BP on Wednesday abandoned plans to build a carbon capture and storage plant in Scotland, after a government energy review delayed a subsidy award.
The British government said on Wednesday it would launch a competition for the award in November, having previously announced the competition in March.
"That's an extension too far," said BP spokesman David Nicholas, adding that preparation for the project had cost BP some US$50 million and up to 70 staff over the past 18 months.
Carbon capture and storage is an unproven new technology that works by burying the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by power plants that burn coal or gas to produce electricity.
It is considered a vital climate change fix, because the majority of the world's future heat-trapping carbon emissions will come from developing countries like China that are sitting on vast coal reserves.
BP had planned to build a power plant that would burn natural gas, extracted from the North Sea between Britain and Norway, and then pump the resulting carbon dioxide back into a depleted oil field.
But sustaining the empty Miller oil field into 2008 without a guaranteed go-ahead was too costly.
BP said the delays by the government were understandable.
"Of course we're disappointed, it was a good opportunity but just one we couldn't bring to pass," Nicholas said.
"We appreciate the breadth of issues the government has to face, it's difficult to put a time frame on it. We'll continue to work with the government and may even participate on someone else's project."