November 8, 2009 9:59 pm

Labour backs nuclear option on energy

Plans for a huge expansion of nuclear power were to be set out by the government on Monday, as it publishes an energy strategy designed to smooth the way for new power stations and other large infrastructure projects.

In the 2020s about 30 per cent of Britain’s electricity will come from nuclear power, up from less than 20 per cent today, the government expects, after the construction of 10 to 12 new reactors. The plans envisage the most ambitious expansion of nuclear power anywhere in Europe, and one of the largest in the world.

The strategy was to be set out in a long-awaited national policy statement on nuclear power.

The nuclear NPS, one of six such statements released on Monday, sets out the government’s views on questions such as the need for new investment in nuclear power and sites where new reactors could be built.

The other statements will cover areas such as wind farms, both onshore and offshore, and infrastructure such as power transmission lines to connect up new generation capacity and gas storage sites.

The other main focus of attention is likely to be on the government’s coal strategy, which will include further details of the competition for official funds to back a pilot “clean coal” plant that can capture and store its carbon dioxide emissions.

Three consortia are likely to be still in the competition: one led by ScottishPower, another by RWE Npower and a third by Eon, which is hopes to secure backing for clean coal technology at part of its proposed power station at Kingsnorth in Kent, even though it revealed last month that the project had been delayed.

The NPSs are designed to give guidance to the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, the independent body set up to take decisions on large projects such as power stations, which comes into force from March 1 next year. The statements will give the government’s view on whether a particular type of project such as a new reactor or wind farm is needed, getting away from the need to go back to first principles with each separate inquiry.

The government hopes the new system will avoid the protracted inquiries that dogged projects such as the Sizewell B reactor, with the IPC taking no more than nine months from the formal start of its inquiry to a decision.

The nuclear statement will give the government’s verdict on 11 locations where the industry has suggested that new reactors could be built – all of them near existing nuclear facilities – and also suggest others that in principle meet the criteria for suitable sites.

However, the government’s verdict is likely to do no more than confirm decisions already taken by the private sector. French-owned EDF Energy plans two reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk and two more at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Horizon Energy, the joint venture of the German groups Eon and RWE, plans four to six reactors spread between Wylfa on Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire, and another consortium including Scottish and Southern Energy, Iberdrola, the parent of ScottishPower, and GDF Suez of France plans two more at a site near Sellafield in Cumbria that they bought last month.

The energy industry had hoped the statements would be published by the summer: executives now fear that there may be insufficient time for them to come into force before next year’s general election.

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