The Landscape of a Nuclear Britain: But Is It the Best Option?
McCarthy, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
Michael McCarthy weighs up the Government's energy strategy
The shape of a future nuclear-powered Britain became apparent yesterday when the Government published a list of potential sites for new atomic power stations.
The 11 locations listed in England and Wales, from Sellafield in Cumbria to Dungeness in Kent, are all sites of current or decommissioned nuclear stations, or very close to such. This means that in practice there is likely to be little opposition from local people, who are used to big nuclear facilities on their doorsteps and regard them as major sources of employment, although the Government is engaging in a month-long public consultation exercise to ascertain people's views.
However, there was anger yesterday from green campaigners and the Liberal Democrats who are firmly opposed to the renaissance of nuclear power in Britain.
Publication of the list was the latest indication that a new nuclear programme for the UK is now rolling remorselessly forward, after the Government firmly committed itself to including nuclear in the future British energy mix in January last year. There are three aspects of it which are significant: the political, the economic and the environmental.
Politically, it is no longer an issue between the two major parties. Although the Labour Government appeared to rule out new nuclear power stations as recently as 2003, it gradually shifted its position, with the backing of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - nuclear enthusiasts both - and in the 2008 Nuclear White Paper, it unequivocally said that atomic energy should be part of a "low carbon future" for the British economy.
The case that ministers have accepted is that, unlike gas-fired and still more coal-fired power, nuclear is free of emissions of the carbon dioxide which is causing climate change - emissions which the UK has agreed to slash by a massive 80 per cent by 2050.
Perhaps even more pressing has been the argument for energy security. Several major coal-fired and nuclear stations are destined to close in the next decade and the Government does not want to fill the "energy gap" with supplies of gas from foreign countries such as Russia, which may be unreliable.
The Tories, after flirting with opposition to nuclear during David Cameron's initial "rebranding" of the party, have accepted these arguments, and have swung round in its favour. …