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Finance, not politics, the main obstacle to nuclear, say campaigners

Ecologist

14th May, 2010

Nuclear industry's need for subsidies rather than political opposition remains main obstacle to building of a new generation of power plants in the UK

The nuclear industry is still likely to require 'hidden subsidies' to support the building of a new generation of power plants in the UK, say campaigners.

The new coalition government in the UK cleared the way for nuclear power in its environmental policy statement released earlier this week.

Despite his election manifesto pledge to oppose nuclear, new energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne said he would not block proposals for new plants in the UK, provided they were built 'without new public subsidy'.

No political objections

Friends of the Earth campaigner Martyn Williams said permission had never really been an obstacle to new nuclear power plants, given consistent support from both Labour and the Conservatives. But Williams said that finance would remain a problem:

'They [the Conservatives] have said [nuclear plants] will have to be built without subsidy, but the question is whether they uphold that commitment or allow themselves wriggle room through giving the companies tax breaks, covering security and insurance costs or rigging the electricity pricing system to guarantee them a higher price for the electricity they produce.'

Williams also said that the companies planning to build new nuclear power plants could also benefit from publicly funded nuclear waste facilities, built to clean up existing atomic waste and likely to cost around £70 billion.

Jim Duffy, from the Stop Hinkley campaign group, said campaigners would be following policy developments closely to watch out for any 'hidden subsidies' being agreed, but he remained hopeful that the Liberal Democrats would force through a public enquiry on the justification for nuclear power.

Planning

Even with a green light from Westminster there is likely to be continued resistance to new nuclear plants at a local planning level. Residents groups have complained about 'farcical' consultations over the new sites for nuclear power stations and called for them to be re-run.

In a bid to overcome long-running local opposition, Labour created the Infrastructure Planning Committee (IPC) last year to fast-track the approval process for big power projects over 50 megawatts (MW).

It is not clear whether the new coalition Government will keep the IPC, but it has already put forward proposals for four nuclear power plants on its 'waiting for approval' list: Sizewell in Suffolk; Wylfa in Anglesey; Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Hinkley Point in Somerset.

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