Go-ahead given for new wave of nuclear plants

The government has given the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power plants. Business Secretary John Hutton said he hoped the first new nuclear power station would be completed "well before" 2020.

Nuclear power will help the UK to meet its "twin energy challenges" - ensuring secure supplies and tackling climate change. It would be for the energy companies to fund, develop and build the new plants, including meeting the full costs of decommissioning.

"Giving the go ahead today that new nuclear power should play a role in providing the UK with clean, secure and affordable energy is in our country's vital long-term interest," he said. "I therefore invite energy companies to bring forward plans to build and operate new nuclear power stations."

The Commons announcement was greeted by muted cheers from the Tory benches, but stony silence from Labour. Hutton said the government had concluded that new nuclear power stations should have a role to play "in this country's future energy mix alongside other low-carbon sources" like renewables.

"The view of the government is that it is in the public interest to allow energy companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations - and that we should therefore take the active steps necessary to facilitate this."

Analysis of future gas and carbon prices showed nuclear was "affordable and provides one of the cheapest electricity options available to reduce our carbon emissions".

Energy suppliers recognised that in a world of high fossil fuel prices, nuclear power made "commercial sense" and that no "artificial cap" would be put on the proportion of electricity to be generated from nuclear power or any other source of "low carbon energy". He said that would be inconsistent with the country's "long-term national interest".

Unveiling a government White Paper, Hutton said that as the UK moved from being a net energy exporter to a net importer, its ability to source a diverse range of secure, competitively priced energy supplies would be "one of the most important challenges we face as a country".

The amount of electricity supplied from renewables was planned to treble by 2015 and today's Energy Bill would strengthen the "renewables obligation" and help speed up such schemes. "Over the course of the next two decades, we will need to replace a third of the UK's generating capacity and by 2050 our electricity will need to be largely low carbon."

Nuclear power had provided the UK with "safe and secure" energy supplies for 50 years and would continue to help contribute to diversity of supply, while also helping the country meet its emissions reduction targets.

Every nuclear power station will save the same amount of carbon emissions as are generated by around one million households.

Hutton said "geological disposal" of waste was both "technically possible and the right approach" for managing existing and new higher activity waste.

"It will be many years before a disposal facility is built. But we are satisfied that interim storage will hold waste from existing and any new power stations safely and securely for as long as is necessary.

"Before development consents for new nuclear power stations are granted, the government will need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and dispose of the waste they will produce."

A new independent body will advise on the financial arrangements to cover operators' waste and decommissioning costs.

"The Nuclear White Paper sets out a clear timetable for action to enable the building of the first new nuclear power station, which I hope will be completed well before 2020."

An assessment would be completed by 2009 of the most suitable sites but applications for new plants were expected to focus on "areas in the vicinity of existing nuclear facilities".

Hutton said the case for new nuclear was "compelling", adding: "We should positively embrace the opportunity of delivering this important part of our energy policy."

Image: A new generation of nuclear power plants has been given government blessing

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