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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 05:48 GMT
Britons split on N-power advance
Dounreay nuclear power station in Scotland
The government is to review the future of energy
A majority of people in Britain would accept new nuclear power stations if they helped fight climate change, a poll suggests.

Some 54% said they would accept new stations being built for this reason, the Mori survey of 1,500 people for the University of East Anglia found.

But in general, more people were against nuclear power than in favour.

Nearly 80% thought renewable technologies and energy efficiency were better ways of tackling global warming.

The survey comes ahead of the government's major review on the future of energy.

Part of this review will consider whether the UK needs to replace its ageing nuclear power stations as a step towards its climate objectives.

Tony Blair has made it clear he believes a new generation of nuclear power stations could be part of that future.

'Better ways'

The survey suggested 78% of people believed promoting renewable energy sources was a better way, and 76% thought reducing energy through lifestyle changes and energy efficiency was better, too.

Supporters of replacing old nuclear stations say it is not a question of either nuclear or renewables, but that all alternatives to fossil fuels must be exploited to the full.

And in terms energy mix, the poll found 63% believed that Britain needed a combination of energy sources, including nuclear and renewables, to ensure a reliable supply of electricity.

The BBC's environment correspondent Tim Hirsch said: "The survey does seem to confirm that outright opposition to nuclear power is softening, but it's very far from a ringing endorsement from the public."

Complex issues

Professor Nick Pidgeon, director of the Centre for Environmental Risk, University of East Anglia, led the survey research team.

He said the government had already recognised the need to take public acceptability into account when exploring future energy needs.

"However, almost nothing is known about how ordinary people are responding to the new debate about nuclear power and climate change," he said.

"This new research helps us to understand public views on this critical question."

He added: "There is a powerful message for the government in our findings and it is that the debate should be a mature one; and it should not be framed purely around nuclear versus climate change.

"People will be responsive to a debate that looks at both energy demand and supply."

Efficient route

Dr Kevin Anderson, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, appealed for the whole debate to be raised to another level of sophistication.

He said discussion about the UK's future energy mix should place far greater emphasis on issues of consumption - of demand.

In this context, he said, nuclear was a very small component; accounting for about 3-4% of total energy used. "We could swap out all the nuclear stations for coal or gas and see very marginal increases in our carbon emissions," he argued.

Although there were arguments for supporting nuclear for energy security reasons, it was not essential to fight climate change, he said.

Far better, he believed, was a policy which sought significant emission reductions through greater efficiency.

"Why are we still selling fridges with a B, C, D, and E ratings? An A-rated fridge is a standard and you set it. You make sure all new buildings are well built with very high energy efficiency.

"You inform industry that standards will be incrementally increased so that they have market signals. You tell car manufacturers, for example, that to sell a car on a UK forecourt by 2010, it must meet a minimum fuel economy."


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