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Nuclear stations will be built if renewable energy misses target

Contractors predict 60 per cent reduction in carbon emis issions cannot be met without replacement of nuclear power stations as Government avoids the burning issue

CONTRACTORS have accused the Government of fudging the issue of nuclear power station building and have raised doubts over new carbon emission targets outlined in this week's energy white paper.

The report brushed aside industry recommendations for new nuclear power stations in favour of a commitment to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent over the next 50 years by expanding renewable energy sources such as wind and water.

But the Government hinted that a replacement of Britain's 14 nuclear plants, which are all set to be decommissioned within 30 years, could go ahead if renewable energy fails to meet its targets over the next five years.

Alan Smith, operational director at consultant Babtie, said: 'The Government has avoided the nuclear issue but at the same time recognised that it will have to come back to it. It is surprising and disappointing.

'I can't see how the 60 per cent reduction can be achieved without a nuclear programme. The Government cannot delay this issue for too long.'

Firms have warned that a debate is desperately needed because planning objections to design and build a new station can take more than 10 years to overcome under the current system.

Terry Gilbert, head of contracting and engineering at the British Nuclear Industry Forum, said: 'It's not a balanced energy policy and the Government has taken the easy way out. We would have preferred to see nuclear maintained at 25 per cent with a station replacement programme and an increase in renewables.'

Trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt said that if the Government had bowed to industry pressure it would have 'destroyed the incentives for renewables and energy efficiency'. But she added: 'Equally we are not ruling out nuclear building in the future.'

Construction and energy minister Brian Wilson said renewable energy would have five years to prove itself, but warned: 'There is no moratorium on new nuclear power stations but someone has to build them and, at the moment, there is not exactly a queue at the door.'

The Government pledged to publish a white paper to set out its proposals if a building programme was considered.

Contractors also called into question the Government's green targets and plans to double the share of electricity from renewables by 2020 from the existing 2010 target of 10 per cent. At present, renewable sources account for 3 per cent of energy supply.

Several wind farm projects are currently being held back by planning clearance and opposition groups.

Mr Smith said: 'I support the renewable obligation but in terms of building large wind turbines, there are relatively few areas in the country that match the criteria. There are significant siting problems and often visual intrusion objections to overcome.'

Concerns have been raised over the development of offshore wind farms with building costs significantly higher than onshore schemes because of problems securing turbines to the seabed and connecting to the national grid.

The construction of wind farms and other renewable projects is to be aided by an extra £60 million of Government cash - bringing spending on green energy to £348 million in four years.

The report proposes streamlining planning procedures to assist wind farm projects. It also outlines plans to bring forward a revision of the building regulations to 2005 as part of the drive to make new homes more energy efficient.

Main aims

Cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent by 2050

Double the share of electricity from renewable energy by 2020 from the 2010 target of 10 per cent n Ensure that every new home is adequately and affordably heated Higher standards

An extra £60 million for renewable projects bringing spending on renewable energy up to £348 million over four years

Reform planning rules to unblock hurdles to renewable energy

Bring forward changes to the building regulations to 2005

Raise building standards so new homes will match higher levels of thermal efficiency by 2012