The UK's science and innovation minister, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, has told a debate in the House of Lords that nuclear power should be considered a form of renewable energy.

Lord Sainsbury told the upper chamber of Parliament that nuclear energy had to be factored into the equation of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. He said that it would be very optimistic to think that the UK could produce 20% of its electricity through wind, wave and solar sources by 2020, which the government has targeted. The only way this target will be met is by reclassifying nuclear as a renewable energy source.

Lord Sainsbury also pointed out that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the UK is in the process of running down much of its current nuclear power station fleet, meaning that by the end of the next decade, a sizeable chunk of the country’s non-carbon emitting generation capacity will have been decommissioned. This makes it harder still for green sources to make a significant impact on overall carbon emission levels.

The minister’s comments provide further evidence that the UK government is considering a dramatic shift in its stance on nuclear power as concern mounts over a future energy supply gap. Reclassifying nuclear power as renewable would however be a contentious move, as it would have profound implications for the renewables obligation (whereby energy suppliers are required to source 10% of their power from renewable generators) as well as allowing nuclear generators to be exempted from the climate change levy.