Nuclear preferences present no quick fix

The prospective mothballing of large chunks of the UK's generating capacity over the next 20 years, our increasing reliance on fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions undoubtedly pose huge dilemmas for the shape of our future energy mix.

It would be irresponsible to ignore nuclear's potential contribution in the energy review. Yet in his evident determination to press ahead with nuclear power station construction, prime minister Tony Blair should not delude himself that decisions will be reached easily or quickly, either on the principle or individual locations. Sizewell B, likely to be the only nuclear station still producing power in the 2020s, was only approved after the second-longest public inquiry in British planning history.

Nuclear safety remains a concern, despite the industry's enviable track record. The potential terrorist threat points to locating further sites as far as possible from urban areas, with all the environmental implications that carries. Proponents of nuclear need to conclusively demonstrate that the economics stack up, not least in finding a viable solution to the radioactive waste disposal problem that has eluded them for the past 25 years.

At this stage, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that rapidly developing alternative renewable energy sources have not yet been given a fair crack of the whip. Furthermore, the scope for cutting down on our profligate use of energy in homes and workplaces through technological or pricing mechanisms remains sadly under-exploited. There is a long way to go before the case for more nuclear power stations is made.


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