Ten nuclear stations to be built in bid to prevent energy shortage

Ten nuclear power stations are to be built in Britain at a cost of up to £50 billion as the Government tries to prevent the threat of regular power cuts by the middle of the coming decade.

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The nuclear industry welcomed the plans, but critics said that ministers had acted too late to avoid an energy crunch caused by the closure of ageing coal-fired stations.

Although the sites were known to be in line for development, the announcement signals the Government’s increasing ambition for nuclear power.

Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, intends that construction of the stations should be quick enough to help to meet Britain’s 2050 target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent while bolstering energy security as North Sea gas supplies decline.

The announcement comes after a radical shake-up in planning laws. Under powers awarded to the Government last month, local authorities have been stripped of the right of veto over new nuclear plants and other key energy projects. Decisions will instead be taken by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which was created to slash the period required to secure consent for energy projects from seven years to one year.

Mr Miliband said: “The current planning system is a barrier to this shift. It serves neither the interests of energy security, the interests of the low-carbon transition, nor the interests of people living in areas where infrastructure may be built.”

The reactors should meet at least a quarter of electricity demand by 2025. “New nuclear is right for energy security and climate change and will be good for jobs too,” Mr Miliband said.

“The threat of climate change means we need to make a transition from a system that relies heavily on high-carbon fossil fuels to a radically different system that includes nuclear, renewables and clean coal power.”

None of the plants, which will cost at least £4 billion each, will be ready before 2017 — too late to replace eight coal-fired stations earmarked for closure by 2015.

Greg Clark, the Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, branded Mr Miliband’s statement a “declaration of a national emergency for our energy security”.

He said: “Every one of the measures contained in this statement should have been brought forward ten years ago when they had the chance to secure the investments that are so desperately needed to keep the lights on, keep prices down and cut carbon emissions. Why did they leave it so late?”

Last month Ofgem, the energy regulator, warned that Britain may face blackouts within four years owing to a supply shortage.

Sam Laidlaw, the chief executive of Centrica, owner of British Gas, which is a partner with EDF, welcomed the changes.

He said: “Britain has a power generation gap looming from 2015 onwards which will need to be filled by new low-carbon replacements, particularly nuclear, and speed of decision making is very important. The current planning system has been a significant barrier so moves to streamline the process are welcome.”

Each new reactor will generate up to 1.6 gigawatts — enough to power a city the size of Manchester — and should last for 60 years.

The first is likely to be built by EDF Energy at Hinkley Point, Somerset, and should come into service by the end of 2017. New reactors at Sizewell, Suffolk, Wylfa, Anglesey, and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, are also likely to be among the first wave. Hartlepool, Co Durham, Bradwell, Essex, Heysham, Lancashire and three sites near Sellafield, West Cumbria, were also named.

Ministers have ruled out construction of a new plant at Dungeness, Kent, citing the risk it faced from rising sea levels.

Mr Miliband indicated three greenfield sites that might be suitable later on, although he cautioned that there were “serious impediments” to all of them. They are Kingsnorth, Kent, and Owston Ferry and Druridge Bay, both in the North East.

About 13 per cent of Britain’s electricity was generated from nuclear power reactors last year and the Government wants to raise this to 25 per cent by 2025.

Ben Ayliffe, the head of Greenpeace’s nuclear campaign, rejected the plans. “Miliband can name as many sites as he likes for new nuclear power stations, but the fact remains that the figures simply don’t add up,” he said.

“Our lawyers will be examining this announcement very closely. You can’t justify building more nuclear power stations when there is no solution to radioactive waste and when international regulators are saying there are huge uncertainties surrounding the basic safety of new reactor designs,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change confirmed last night that the Government was studying an exemption for electricity produced from nuclear reactors from the Climate Change Levy, a tax on energy use imposed on industrial companies. The levy, which was introduced in 2001, raises an estimated £1 billion per year for the Treasury.

Jeremy Nicholson, a spokesman for the Energy Intensive Users Group, an industry association that has lobbied for the tax break, estimated an exemption would be worth between £160 and £300 million per year to the nuclear power industry.

Last week EDF told The Times that it was unclear if the plants would be built without fresh government support.

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