Nuclear plants could be reality by 2018

CONSTRUCTION of new nuclear power stations at Sizewell and Bradwell could start within five years - subject to planning approval and the go-ahead from safety watchdogs.

CONSTRUCTION of new nuclear power stations at Sizewell and Bradwell could start within five years - subject to planning approval and the go-ahead from safety watchdogs.

The Suffolk and Essex plants are expected to be among a series of four or five new reactors generating electricity by 2018. Each will cost between £2.5 billion and £3 billion.

The Government yesterday opened the door to a new nuclear building programme, saying the case for its inclusion in the mix of future energy sources was “compelling”.

But the nuclear industry has not only to find the money to finance the new programme it has to negotiate several hurdles, including safety clearance for the new reactors, before construction can start. This initial process is expected to take at least five years.

Local authorities will be looking to agree a package to minimise disruption and bring benefits to the community.

In Suffolk this will include the re-opening for passengers of the Saxmundham to Leiston rail link - part of a “green” travel plan.

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A joint team set up by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) and the Environment Agency, is currently evaluating four potential designs put forward by international companies to be adopted by the UK.

The NII told the East Anglian Daily Times yesterday that this process alone is unlikely to be completed until 2011.

Under Government plans to reform the planning system for major projects, a central commission will be set up to consider issues such as safety, economics and terrorist threat and a local public inquiry also has to be held for each site identified.

Business minister John Hutton, claimed yesterday the case for a nuclear component to the UK's future energy sources was “compelling”.

The importance of Sizewell in the industry's plans was highlighted by the minister's unpublicised visit to the Suffolk site on Wednesday - 24 hours before the Government announced its backing for more nuclear plants.

Bill Coley, chief executive of British Energy, which owns the Sizewell C and Bradwell B sites, welcomed the Government announcement as a “key step forward”.

“We are ready for new build and have the sites, people, skills and experience that are essential for its success,” he said.

Andrew Nunn, Suffolk Coastal District Council's cabinet member for the natural environment, said it was still not clear whether there were any guarantees that the views of local people and the council representing them would influence the outcome of any application for a Sizewell C.

“We believe that we should still have the right to control the impact that any proposed development could have on what is a unique environment around Sizewell - this district's local knowledge and requirements must be taken into account.

“The Government said five years ago that there would be the fullest public consultation before any decision to proceed with building of a new power station. It cannot and must not tear up that commitment.”

Eddy Alcock, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for the environment, said although the local authority had agreed to the principle of new nuclear power stations in the UK, it would not mean automatic approval for Sizewell C.

“We hope for and expect a full public consultation,” he said.

Dr Mike Coleman, chairman of the Suffolk Preservation Society, said more nuclear power was a sensible approach but only as part of a balanced supply system complemented by other sustainable sources.

“From a Suffolk viewpoint, a new station would guarantee that at least this part of the Suffolk coast would be protected against sea level rise and coastal erosion.

“It would also ensure continuing local employment in the longer term and would ensure that its sister nuclear facilities remaining at Sizewell will be under secure and vigilant eyes for the long term,” he said.

Pete Wilkinson, a Suffolk-based environment consultant and a member of the Government-appointed Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) said the Government had ignored the recommendations of its own committee and pressed ahead with the announcement of a new nuclear building programme.

“In short, the Government has wasted time, energy and public money going through the charade of demonstrating that there is a 'solution' to nuclear waste and thereby justifying its announcement.”

Mr Wilkinson, who is also spokesman for the newly established organisation Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates, said: “There is clearly no currently demonstrable or acceptable scientific, technical or ethical solution to nuclear waste management. Years of intensified research and development and an urgent, independent security review of storage must take place as minimum requirements to give an announcement on new nuclear build even the vestige of legitimacy.”

Mary Edwards, East Anglian spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said: “Today's decision to give the go-ahead to a new generation of nuclear power stations will undermine safe and sustainable solutions to Britain's energy problems and will do little to tackle climate change.”

Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigner, said research had shown that even if ten new nuclear reactors were built it would only lead to a 4% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

“The future should be with renewable and low carbon technologies, energy efficiency and energy conservation,” he added.

But Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, the biggest nuclear industry union, welcomed the Government's announcement.

“Nuclear energy is green energy, essential in the race to tackle climate change. New nuclear build is an essential part of a balanced energy policy that must embrace a wide range of low carbon options,” he said.