Gordon Brown is to face down sceptics in his party and give the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations, which will be built across the country.
In a move immediately condemned by environmental organisations, the Prime Minister-elect will give the green light to the plans that will show that he is backing Tony Blair’s support of the nuclear industry.
Boosted by a new poll, which shows Brown pulling ahead of David Cameron on the issue of competence to run the country, the Chancellor will signal his support this week for a dramatic renewal of the nuclear power programme that will see the building of up to eight new stations, possibly within 15 years.
Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, who is a close Brown ally, is understood to have been told that the Chancellor will offer his unequivocal backing for the government’s energy white paper, to be published on Wednesday.
Darling will make clear that Britain will have to embark on a major renewal of nuclear power if it is to guarantee power supplies while delivering a 60 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. ‘This is a really urgent problem,’ Darling told The Observer
A major push to harness wave power and build hundreds of new wind farms – many of which will be based offshore – are also likely to be approved. ‘A mix of energy supply is right,’ Darling said of his plans to boost low-carbon energy, particularly offshore projects where there are fewer planning hurdles.
Although Darling insisted that no formal decisions had been made, it is clear that nuclear and wind will provide a significant part of future energy needs. He said: ‘The global demand for energy is going up. We’ve got to come to a decision one or way or another this year. If you didn’t do anything [then in 10 to 15 years] you’d come perilously close on very cold days or very hot days to seeing interruptions in supply.’
Greenpeace last night condemned his plans. A spokesman said: ‘Reaching for nuclear power to solve climate change is like taking up smoking to lose weight. Is it a simple answer? Yes. Is it an effective answer to the climate change crisis? Absolutely not.’
Brown was given a taste of a potential rebellion by his own MPs last night when a former environment minister expressed unease. Elliot Morley, the MP for Scunthorpe, said: ‘Nuclear may or may not have a role to play in the new energy mix. My worry is that this will direct resources and investment away from new low-carbon technology, growth in renewables and energy efficiency. I am not sure nuclear is the best investment at this moment.’
Most of the new nuclear plants are likely to be built on the sites of ageing power stations. ‘It is more likely than not that they would be on existing sites,’ Darling said. ‘However, that does not mean every existing site is appropriate. Because of advances in technology I suspect you’d probably need fewer sites than you would in the olden times.’
Darling said Britain was in a ‘race against time’ to shore up its energy supplies because nuclear power plants, which currently generate 19 per cent of electricity, are due to be phased out. By 2020, if nothing is done, the figure will fall to 7 per cent.
Alongside this, many of the largest coal plants will have to be closed to comply with European Union regulations. Officials judge that without a significant new power station building programme this combination of coal and nuclear closures will force Britain to rely on environmentally unfriendly gas-fired power stations and imports from unstable regions such as the Middle East and Russia for up to 90 per cent of its energy.
A strong opponent of nuclear power when he was first elected to Parliament 20 years ago, Darling says he now believes that Britain has no option but to remain nuclear. ‘I respect the views of someone who says they don’t want nuclear in any circumstances whatsoever. Fair enough. Right, tell me what the alternative is. If there was an easy answer that had low carbon, no cost, no eyesores somebody would have found it. ‘
A new Ipsos MORI poll gives Brown a clear lead in competence at running the economy and Britain’s public services. A majority of people, 54 per cent, believes Brown is better placed to run the economy, compared with 27 per cent for Cameron.
Nicholas Watt, Oliver Morgan and Robin McKie
20 May 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding