British report on energy strategy will consider nuclear role

Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday asked for a report to be completed by the year-end to detail the future strategic objectives of Great Britain’s energy policy. The work will be carried out by the Performance and Innovation advisory unit, chaired by energy minister Brian Wilson, and will include an evaluation of the future role of the nuclear power industry.

The review will also consider the role of coal, gas, oil and renewables in the future energy balance as well as Combined Heat and Power and the enhancement of energy efficiency. It will assess what role, if any, nuclear power generation will play in achieving targets set under the Kyoto agreement and improving further still, Great Britain’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and reduce global warming.

“This group has been set a vital task – identifying the longer term strategic objectives of energy policy for Great Britain”, said Wilson. “We must also ensure reliable and competitive energy supplies for the next generation.”

“We are currently self sufficient in energy at competitive prices”, said Wilson. “We have diverse sources of supply. We are also on target to more than meet our Kyoto commitments at the end of the decade.”

“However we must not be complacent. In future we expect to become increasingly dependent on imports of fuel and particularly gas which could eventually become a dominant source of our supplies. And in the longer term, we will need to reduce our carbon emissions further in order to play our part in meeting the challenge of global warming.”

The Advisory Group will include environment minister, Michael Meacher, and Andrew Smith, chief secretary to the treasury. It will work along side the Department of Trade and Industry and other government departments who have a responsibility for or an interest in government policy.

It is intended that the report will provide a key input to the government’s future policy on security of energy supply, and on climate change. It will also address the Government’s response to the Royal Commission Report on Environmental Pollution.

The energy minister said that he would be meeting with “key stakeholders”, in order to explain the objectives of the review – with the intention operating openly and transparently. “I am keen they should play an active part in the review.”

The brief given to the Performance and Innovation Unit identifies three key challenges:

* Managing the conflicts of interest between environmental objectives and future energy demands

* Ensuring security and diversity of energy supplies

* Managing the possible conflicting policy goals for energy prices – balancing competitive pricing for industry and consumers with the use of price as an instrument for advancing environmental objectives.

The government reaffirmed its commitment to a competitive market underlying energy policy. It acknowledged that the UK policy review would have to examine energy policy within a worldwide context and that UK policy will have to evolve in step with other countries policies.

The future role of nuclear power in the UK is highly controversial. Britain currently generates 25 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power stations however, this will decease over the next twenty years as installations are progressively decommissioned. There are no plans to build any new nuclear plants or extend the life of existing facilities and any change to this policy is likely to face fierce opposition.

The German government has recently taken the decision to phase out all nuclear power production in contrast to the position of the new US administration, which is considering increasing nuclear power production.

The UK is also forecast to see a reduction in coal generation and so energy consumption is likely to be increasingly dependent on oil and, in particular, gas. According to government research, initiatives to encourage domestic renewable energy sources and reduce overall demand will be insufficient to reduce dependence on oil.

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