In a policy paper published this week, the CBI called on the government to deliver a clear decision on whether to build the next generation of nuclear power stations "within a year".
The document argues that the ten-year lead-in time for building such facilities, combined with a lack of government clarity on the issues, means that public debate must start immediately and be concluded by the end of 2006.
The CBI called on the government to streamline the planning process for nuclear power installations. It also maintained that reactor designs should be prelicensed and called for public inquiries to be limited to site-specific issues.
CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones said: "Without a coherent and integrated energy policy, there is a risk that the billions of pounds of required investment will not come at the right time or at the most efficient cost. The challenges that the government did not tackle in its 2003 energy white paper have not gone away. The opportunity must be seized and the government must make some tough decisions."
Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King told the Commons environmental audit committee last week that "planning permission is the biggest problem" with rolling out nuclear power. However, he added that new stations would be a "very different beast", having been designed with safety in mind.
King advised that renewable energy sources such as wind turbines will be insufficient in themselves to meet targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
Almost a quarter of the country's electricity is generated from nuclear power, but by 2023 this proportion will fall to four per cent without new facilities. Prime minister Tony Blair is expected to set out the terms of a "short sharp" energy review next week.
Powering the Future can be viewed via www.PlanningResource.co.uk.
- See Editorial, page 11.