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5 July 2001 Edition

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50 new British nuclear power stations possible

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN

Have you heard the one about the government so concerned about the environmental consequences of greenhouse gases they decided to build more nuclear power stations? No, this is not a joke. It is happening, and worse still, happening on our doorstep. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has initiated an energy policy review headed by Energy minister Brian Wilson, a blunt advocate of nuclear power.

     
BNFL is leaking money as well as radioactive waste, but they are still seeking to build new power stations and subsidise the closure of their existing Magnox reactors
Blair's energy review came in the same week that British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) announced losses of £210 million sterling for the last year. It is their second year of operations.

Despite the fact that BNFL is leaking money as well as radioactive waste, they are still seeking to not only build new power stations but also subsidise the closure of their existing Magnox reactors. They are supposed to be decommissioned by 2010. BNFL face shutdown costs of over £34 billion to shutdown and dismantle these plants.

Also in disarray is British Nuclear Fuels' nuclear waste reprocessing business. The company is seeking to delay by a year delivery of their first tranche of reprocessed waste to German and Japanese customers. BNFL are also waiting approval to open their £480 million Mox fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

BNFL are not the only nuclear power generator in Britain. The privatised British Energy company has 15 reactors, including seven Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs), which are supposed to be shut down in 2025. This is already a delay of ten years from what should have been their original shutdown date. British Energy is now lobbying to have this deadline extended.

Both companies have been lobbying the British government to not only extend the life of existing power stations but to let them press ahead with the construction of new ones. The British government is open to this idea because it sees nuclear power as a method of ensuring it meets its commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto protocol.

Currently in Britain, the mix of power sources is as follows. A quarter of Britain's power comes from gas, 30% from coal, 25% is nuclear generated, 2.5% comes from renewable resources and the rest is imported. Britain is already importing some gas for power generation and energy minister Brian Wilson estimates that by 2020, 90% of British gas will be imported.

Blair's new Labour government is committed to having 10% of its power come from renewable resources by 2010. This target is now believed to be unattainable. Rather than commit the same level of resources given to subsidising nuclear power to developing renewable energy, the British government looks to be taking the soft option of just building more nuclear power stations.

It would take the construction of 50 new nuclear power stations to be able to maintain power supply while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Both BE and BNFL propose building most of these stations on existing sites. Ten of British Energy's current 15 nuclear facilities are on the west coast of Britain, incredibly close to Ireland's densest population centers.

The New Labour government has stressed that the energy policy review has yet to reach any conclusions. However, British newspapers have reported openly on the significant pressure being brought by the nuclear lobby in the corridors of power and New Labour's recent election manifesto had deleted any pledges not to build new nuclear power stations.

Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan has called on the Dublin government to urgently take up this matter with the British government and ask them to clarify what their position is on not only the start up of the Mox fuel reprocessing plant but on expanding the nuclear power industry in Britain.

``The last thing the communities on the east coast of Ireland need is more nuclear facilities and more new power plants in Britain,'' said the Louth county councillor. ``The safety record of the British nuclear industry in not just power generation but in storage and reprocessing of nuclear waste is dire. The British need to be dismantling their nuclear power industry, not expanding it.''
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