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UK: Nuclear power? Yes please!

THE STERN Review on the economics of climate change is the clearest vindication yet of prime minister Tony Blair's unequivocal endorsement of nuclear power. Urgent action is required, the Review says, to avert ecological disaster on a global scale (see p8). Nuclear, as a low-carbon source of power generation, offers a way of supplying large amounts of incremental electricity without a commensurate increase in carbon emissions.

Nicholas Stern's Review has stirred energy policymakers worldwide. But none seemed more pleased with the outcome of Stern's deliberations than Blair himself. In mid-November, the prime minister told MPs that a new generation of nuclear power stations will be built, with enough capacity to generate at least as much electricity as the UK's nuclear industry does today – about 23% of electricity supply.

"Without [nuclear power] we will not be able to meet any of our objectives on climate change, or our objectives on energy security," he said. In stark contrast to the government's position just three years ago, when an energy White Paper all but ruled out nuclear power in favour of renewables, Blair has been keen to be seen nuclear friendly – even visiting the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria last month.

In legislation mapped out last month, the government said it would put into law its goal of cutting carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. However, it stopped short of setting annual targets against which progress could be measured. Alongside nuclear, wind-power and other renewable sources of energy, which formed the cornerstone of the 2003 White Paper, remain firmly on the agenda.

But while the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) "warmly welcomed" the Review's findings, there remained, said chief executive Maria McCaffery, many obstacles to its rapid growth. These include long and expensive planning processes, especially in the case of onshore wind-power, and slow development of the grid infrastructure required to transport the power to the market. The BWEA said that if these issues were dealt with firmly by government now, the UK could realistically be obtaining 6% of its power from wind by 2010. And, if further action is taken to encourage the development of offshore wind farms, nearly 15% of UK demand could be met by wind in 2015.

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