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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Nuclear power 'stings' taxpayers
Sir Menzies Campbell
The Lib Dems have been unveiling a series of policy plans
New nuclear power stations cannot be built without the UK taxpayer getting stung, Sir Menzies Campbell has said.

In a speech on Tuesday, the Lib Dem leader branded nuclear energy the "ultimate stealth tax".

He said cleaning up existing waste already costs every citizen 1,500 a year and it was time Britain got serious about energy efficiency.

Tony Blair reignited the nuclear debate last month saying that the issue was back on the agenda "with a vengeance".

Last week Sir Menzies raised the issue during Prime Minister's Questions when Mr Blair told him nuclear had to be "at least part of the debate".

But Lib Dem research suggests that the only way a new generation of nuclear power stations could be made to work would be via vast taxpayer subsidies or a "rigged" market.

In his speech, Sir Menzies argued an alternative energy strategy based on renewables, microgeneration, energy efficiency and clean coal technology would be more affordable.

Market distortion?

He said: "Every UK citizen is already paying over 1,500 to clean up the nuclear waste of the last 50 years - and that bill regularly gets revised upwards.

"If the prime minister gets his way and a new generation of nuclear power stations are built, both the taxpayer and consumer will get stung again. Nuclear power is the ultimate stealth tax.

"Evidence from abroad shows nuclear power is not competitive. Last year the US government was forced to offer nuclear subsidies of 13.7bn to persuade investors.

"The new nuclear power plant being built in Finland needed hidden subsidies through export guarantees from France, 30-year-long contracts and government guarantees over future decommissioning and waste.

"The real question for the forthcoming energy review is, where will Blair hide his nuclear subsidy?"

Sir Menzies argued that the "low carbon, non nuclear alternative" was backed by Mr Blair just three years ago.

"As the prime minister used to say, nuclear power will impose a tax on the country, costing consumers billions of pounds, distorting the market and squeezing out competition."

After his speech, the Lib Dem leader went off to visit a combined heat and power station and a fuel cell project that power a leisure centre in Woking, where his party controls the council.

'Big problem'

Nuclear power contributes about 20% of Britain's electricity, but the existing plants will be decommissioned over the next 15 to 20 years.

Mr Blair argues that although the government has invested in renewable energy, the country would face "a very big problem" if it ruled out new nuclear plants.

The Conservatives have yet to decide their policy on nuclear power.

Although the party has been a traditional supporter of the industry, shadow trade secretary Alan Duncan has said it no longer backed public subsidies for it.

"We, like the government, are not looking at a subsidy regime for nuclear power," he said earlier this month.

"[The nuclear industry] must justify their own arguments with honest economics and a proper regime for their waste."

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