The UK prime minister Tony Blair has told a business conference in London that new nuclear plants are likely to have a major role to play in ensuring that Britain is able to meet its future energy needs.
<p>Mr Blair's comments are his most overt yet on the issue, although many political observers felt he was only publicly underlining a view that he has held for some considerable time.<br /><br />Nevertheless, Mr Blair's apparent enthusiasm for the nuclear option is contentious, with anti-nuclear campaigners claiming that he has pre-empted the results of his own government's ongoing energy review.<br /><br />Mr Blair said that, with the UK facing the prospect of a worrying reliance on imported gas supplies in the future, nuclear power was back on the agenda with a vengeance. Only days before however, the newly-appointed trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling told the Financial Times newspaper that he was concerned about the opaque economics of the nuclear industry.<br /><br />Environmentalists are largely opposed to new nuclear plants being built owing to the intractable problems of waste disposal – an issue that also has a wider resonance with the public at large. <br /><br />Indeed, as we reported last month, the Irish government is implacably opposed to any further development of the giant Sellafield nuclear complex in northwest England, which it blames for polluting its own shoreline. The Dublin administration's environment minister Dick Roche professed himself deeply disappointed about Mr Blair's comments to the CBI conference, and refused to rule out the prospect of legal action against London via the European courts to prevent further nuclear operations at the Sellafield site.<br /><br />Yet fears over a looming UK 'energy gap' are growing as the current fleet of nuclear stations begin to wind down towards decommissioning, and serious doubts about the security of imported gas supplies have come to light over the past few months. Nuclear is also seen as a key method by which the UK can meet its Kyoto targets on carbon emissions, with few experts convinced that renewables combined with energy efficiency measures would provide the requisite output.<br /><br />Mr Blair acknowledged that renewables will have a role to play in the future energy mix. Meanwhile, the power generation sector has recently been active in bringing coal back to the table as an increasingly attractive option. Both E.ON and RWE are planning to build new 'clean coal' plants in the UK that will use carbon sequestration technology to reduce pollution.</p>