Government steps up call for nuclear power

LONDON Thu Sep 18, 2008 12:17am BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will step up its campaign for new nuclear power stations on Thursday, saying they are vital for energy security, climate change and job creation.

Industry minister John Hutton will tell the newly-created Nuclear Development Forum's first meeting that new nuclear power plants are also crucial in preventing power cuts as ageing coal and nuclear plants are progressively shut down.

"I'm determined to press all the buttons to get nuclear built in this country at the earliest opportunity - not only because it's a no-brainer for our energy security, but also because it's good for jobs and our economy," he will say.

"Insecure international sources of energy underline the case for a diverse mix. We are determined to get new nuclear up and running as soon as possible - securing clean low carbon energy and helping to keep the UK's lights on."

The Forum brings together top figures from across the nuclear industry to support and advise the new Office for Nuclear Development in creating the conditions for new nuclear power stations to be built in Britain.

Advocates of nuclear power say it emits no climate changing carbon and reduces reliance on imports of gas from Russia which has proved an unreliable supplier in the past and whose war with Georgia dramatically stretched diplomatic ties with the West.

Opponents reject atomic power as unnecessary and a security risk whose waste remains deadly for thousands of years.

Britain's nuclear power plants provide 19 percent of the country's electricity. However, all but one are due to be closed within 15 years.

The government, which said in 2003 new nuclear plants were unnecessary, changed its mind last year and called for a new fleet to be built with private money.

Earlier this year Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the new fleet must produce more power than the existing plants.

The government is in the process of streamlining the planning system which delayed Britain's newest atomic power plant, Sizewell B, by eight years and added millions of pounds in costs.

Hutton will tell the meeting that growth of a new nuclear industry in Britain could provide up to 100,000 jobs and create a vibrant export trade as the rest of the world starts to wake up to the nuclear call in the face of climate change.

"But we're facing stiff competition for this investment and for the equipment we'll need to build these power stations which is why I'm determined to ensure Britain remains a competitive environment for nuclear investment," he will say.

"I'm calling for a spotlight to be put on the opportunities available to our companies from the UK's and the world's nuclear new build programmes, and make sure they take advantage of it."

China, which is building a coal-fired power plant a week on average to fuel its booming economy, is also embarking on a major nuclear power programme with 24 plants planned and a further 76 proposed.

However, despite the rhetoric from government and expressions of interest from major utilities EDF and E.ON, no firm plans have been submitted in Britain and no new plant is even close to construction.

The nuclear industry is very cagey about the costs of building a new nuclear plant, but most estimates put the figure at around four billion dollars.

Negotiations between the government and the industry are understood to revolve around some sort of price guarantee making it safer for private investors to take the plunge.

(Editing by William Hardy)

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