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Britain Approves New Generation of Nuclear Power Plants


The British government has announced its support for a new generation of nuclear power plants, which it says will provide a clean source of energy and help the country fight gas emissions and climate change. Opponents of the plan say nuclear energy is costly and dangerous. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

Speaking in the House of Commons Thursday, British Business Secretary John Hutton gave the government's approval for the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants.

"The government believes that new nuclear power stations should have a role to play in this country's future energy mix, alongside other low-carbon sources," he said.

Hutton said the government believes it is in the public interest to allow energy companies to invest in new nuclear power reactors and to facilitate that process.

"Nuclear power currently provides us with around 19 percent of our electricity requirements," he said. "Nuclear power will help us meet our twin energy challenges, ensuring secure supplies and tackling climate change."

Britain has been using nuclear power for more than 50 years, and its current aging reactors are due to close down within the next few decades. The government says it makes sense to allow companies to replace them with new, safer and more efficient plants.

The use of nuclear power has long sparked controversy, and opinion studies show the British public remains divided over the issue.

Greenpeace is among the environmental groups opposing the government's nuclear power plan. Greenpeace nuclear energy project director Jan Beranek tells VOA nuclear energy will not solve the problem of carbon, or CO2, emissions.

"Even if the UK goes ahead and builds 10 new reactors, they will hardly have any impact on CO2 emissions before 2020 and the impact will be very small," he said.

And, says Beranek, the dangers posed by nuclear energy far outweigh the benefits.

"There is the questions of nuclear waste, which has not been solved and this is going to remain quite deadly for thousands of generations to come," he added. "And there is a big problem of proliferation, and we believe that with nuclear expansion … the world would actually suffer from undermining global security."

Greenpeace advocates large-scale investment in a mix of renewable sources of energy, which it says would be more cost effective, safer, cleaner and provide energy security. The British government says it is promoting a variety of energy sources, but it says nuclear power should be in that mix.

Expanding the use of nuclear energy has become increasingly important with the rising price of oil, a growing desire by individual countries for greater energy independence, and the growing pressure to reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change.

While Britain gets less than 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, France relies heavily on nuclear power and gets almost 80 percent of its electricity from its reactors.