Prime Minister Tony Blair will launch a review on Tuesday of Britain's energy needs and stoke speculation that he favours nuclear power by warning that renewable sources cannot fully meet the country's needs.
LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair will launch a review on Tuesday of Britain's energy needs and stoke speculation that he favours nuclear power by warning that renewable sources cannot fully meet the country's needs.
Any move to build new nuclear power stations will run into fierce opposition both from environmental campaigners and dozens of lawmakers in his own Labour party.
Officials said Blair will tell the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) employers' group that in 15 years, the mothballing of old coal and nuclear stations will leave a big hole in Britain's energy supply.
"Some of this will be replaced by renewables, but not all of it can," he will say.
Government advisers and industry groups are urging new investment in nuclear power, not least because Britain will probably miss its greenhouse gas reduction goals without it.
Blair's public statements up to now suggest he believes new nuclear power stations are probably needed. But his aides insist the government has not made up its mind.
"He hasn't made that decision. The only decision the prime minister has made is that he has to make a decision ... within this parliament," Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson told BBC Radio. "I come to this completely neutral on nuclear."
SUPPLY, PRICE AND CO2
Johnson said the review will concentrate on security of supply, affordability and cutting greenhouse gases.
It will report back next year.
The government's chief scientific adviser, David King, has urged Blair to give the go-ahead for an expansion of nuclear power generation to help stem climate change.
The CBI has also pressed for a decision within a year to end uncertainty about energy supply.
Britain has become a net importer of gas as its North Sea supplies dwindle. The government is concerned about the security of its energy supply, which will increasingly come from abroad.
Recent rocketing gas prices have highlighted possible problems in the future.
All but one of the UK's nuclear power stations are due to close by 2023. Without new investment, nuclear power will meet only a small fraction of Britain's energy needs by 2010, down from 21 percent now.
But Blair faces stiff opposition from Labour lawmakers, some 40 of whom have already signed a motion rejecting new nuclear power stations.
After a May election slashed Blair's parliamentary majority by about 100 seats to 66, it requires fewer than 40 Labour rebels siding with opposition parties to defeat the government.
"The UK can meet its targets for tackling climate change and maintain fuel security by using clean, safe alternatives that are already available," said Tony Juniper, director of pressure groups Friends of the Earth.
"These have so far been underplayed by the prime minister, who has fallen for the nuclear industry's slick PR campaign."
Blair suffered his first ever big parliamentary defeat last month. More such setbacks could herald the end for a prime minister who has already declared he will not fight another election.