According to a UK newspaper, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, has become the first high profile member of the Blair government to criticize the concept of a new UK nuclear power program.

The Independent newspaper reports that Mr Hain has written an article in New Ground magazine, which belongs to the Socialist Environment Resources Association, an environmental group with close ties to the Labour Party.

In his article, Mr Hain reportedly says that any new generation of nuclear stations could have serious, and unquantifiable, implications for both security and the government balance sheet.

He also suggests that a move towards bridging the energy gap through renewables would be significantly preferable, the newspaper says.

Our failure to take the tough decisions on alternative sources of energy in the past has left us now facing this option. If we are faced with no choice but to go down this route, then we must at the same time make a similar commitment to renewables that ensures future generations do not face the same dilemma, the article says.

There is a growing feeling among many MPs that the government has already decided upon a new program of nuclear plant construction, despite the likely controversy that such a program would inevitably provoke.