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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 13:58 GMT
Nuclear power may rise again
Protestors at Sellafield   PA
Protest at Sellafield: But nuclear power may survive all the same
Alex Kirby

Anti-nuclear campaigners in the UK believe they may finally be scenting success. The latest support for their cause, they believe, is the energy review commissioned by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

They say the leaked final draft of the review suggests that nuclear power could lose all public subsidies. But there are signs that the government is in fact warming to the nuclear option.

A report in the magazine New Scientist says the review dismisses nuclear power as too dangerous and expensive, and believes it could be phased out by 2050.

However, the executive summary of the review, which was sent to BBC News Online, says something quite different.

Ruling nothing out

One of the review's key points says: "Government should start a process of public debate about sustainable energy, including the issue of nuclear power."

Cooling tower and wind turbine   AP
Renewables are catching up
In a section headed "Nuclear power - keeping the option open", it says: "The need now is to ensure that, should there be a commitment to nuclear in the future, the lead-time to implementation of projects is reduced.

"The desire for new options also points to the need to develop new, low waste, modular designs of nuclear reactor."

The review accepts that the "well-established" global nuclear industry does not need support in the way that renewable energy sources do. But it clearly foresees the possibility that nuclear power could enjoy public support in the future.

In a key passage, it calls for nuclear energy to be judged like other fuels in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, which many scientists say is worsening natural climate variability.

Energy mix-up

The review says the government "should ensure that as methods to value carbon in the market are developed the nuclear industry is treated in the same way as other options".

Stormy English Channel   PA
Wave power has huge potential
The Energy Minister, Brian Wilson, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the review would "have some positive things to say about nuclear".

Mr Wilson, who is happy to be known as a friend of the nuclear industry, said this week that the door remained open to a future generation of nuclear power stations.

There are reports that the industry will be offered exemption from the climate change levy if it builds new stations.

The levy raises about 1bn annually from power companies in an attempt to discourage the burning of carbon-based fuels.

Mr Wilson sees a role for renewable energy. He is backing the construction of what is being called the world's biggest wind farm on the Hebridean island of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland.

Despite that, it would be premature to think the review will advise him or Mr Blair to pull the plug on nuclear power - or that they would take much notice if it did.

After all, the government has only just given the green light for the controversial mixed oxide (Mox) facility at Sellafield to go into production. It will begin its work next Thursday.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | Scotland
Giant wind farm planned for island
13 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Blair warned on carbon cuts
01 Nov 01 | Americas
Nuclear agency warns of threat
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