October 2001

Nuclear power 'not needed' to hit green targets

FT.com, October 29, 2001
By Cathy Newman, Political Correspondent

[Posted 30/10/2001]

Ministers will meet ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without having to build any more nuclear power stations, according to a government-backed report.

The Carbon Trust, charged by the prime minister to persuade business to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, has told the government's energy review that the targets can be met if power is generated through other means such as hydrogen, wind and waves.

Ian McAllister, who chairs the trust and is also chairman of Ford of Britain, said: "Nuclear is a red herring in this particular debate: you can achieve your low-carbon economy without nuclear. It's not necessary to meet the targets."

However, an official at British Nuclear Fuels said: "Without nuclear's contribution this country cannot have a continued, secure and environmentally friendly energy supply." All but one of Britain's nuclear power stations - Sizewell B in Suffolk - are to close by 2023.

Nuclear power plants emit negligible amounts of carbon dioxide. But since September 11 there have been concerns that nuclear power stations could be vulnerable to terrorist attack. Ministers have promised that carbon emissions will be 20 per cent below their 1990 level by 2010. Carbon emissions account for up to 90 per cent of greenhouse gases.

The review of how to meet energy demands over the next 50 years is being undertaken by Downing Street's performance and innovation unit, and will be completed by the end of this year.

It is chaired by Brian Wilson, energy minister - an advocate of nuclear power whose constituency, Cunninghame North, includes the Hunterston plant. In its June manifesto Labour shelved a pledge not to build nuclear stations. However, the evidence from the Carbon Trust, set up by the government, will carry weight.

The Carbon Trust submission to the unit says there must be a "clear and unambiguous political commitment beyond the lifetime of individual ministers and governments". Mr McAllister said tax breaks existed to persuade companies to become more energy efficient, but that "there may need to be more" incentives offered by the Treasury.

Apart from using hydrogen or renewables such as the wind or waves to generate power, carbon emissions can also be reduced by using energy more efficiently and growing more trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

The UK's own emissions target goes beyond the Kyoto protocol, which promised that by 2012 greenhouse gas emissions would be 12.5 per cent lower than in 1990.

The unit estimates that half the UK's energy needs would by 2020 be met by gas, with 6 per cent coming from coal, 4 per cent from renewables and 3 per cent from nuclear power.

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