Committee hears nuclear rationale

Clearer planning processes would be needed for a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built in the UK, according to an industry body.

Appearing at the Commons environmental audit committee investigation into nuclear power and renewables, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) denied speculation that legislation would need to be changed to develop such facilities.

But the firm insisted that strong government leadership and a clearly defined time frame are essential. "This means that key approvals need to be granted before construction with a well-defined scope and timetable for further approvals during construction and commissioning," it stated in written evidence to the inquiry.

The government must ensure that planning and regulatory activities are sufficiently resourced and managed, the statement adds. If this happens, new nuclear plants could be operational within ten years, BNFL believes.

However, it warns that ambiguous policies could add another six years to the timescale.

British Energy told the committee that it wants a clearer process, not reduced scrutiny from planning and licensing regulations. "We want to have the public debate once rather than several times," said legal adviser Robert Armour.

BNFL told the hearing that current nuclear power sites are the natural choice for new facilities. "Work has already been done on geology, flora and fauna," said energy unit director Richard Mason. "They already have grid connections and local support."

BNFL admitted that the UK's wind resources could underpin the government's target of generating ten per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2010. But it insisted that problems with the planning process and securing national grid connections make achieving that target doubtful.

The green lobby has already given evidence to the hearing. Sustainable Development Commission chairman Jonathan Porritt and trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson are both set to appear next week.

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