British nuclear power consultation flawed: report

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Thu Jan 3, 2008 7:34pm EST

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government's public consultation last year on the need for new nuclear power plants to tackle climate change and bridge the looming energy gap was flawed and misleading, a group of academics said on Friday.

The government, which has said repeatedly new nuclear power stations are needed, was forced by a legal ruling last February to undertake the consultation which ended in October.

It is expected early next week to give the green light to a new generation of nuclear power plants to replace the ageing nuclear stations due to close by 2035 which currently supply nearly 20 percent of the country's electricity.

"The government was in error in asking the public for a decision 'in principle', when the core 'what if' issues were not consulted on in any meaningful way, or resolved in practice," the academics concluded in an 80-page report.

"These issues include nuclear fuel supply and manufacture, vulnerability to attack, security and nuclear proliferation, radiation waste, radiation risk and health effects, reactor decommissioning, reactor design and siting," they added.

Environmentalists, who could have given a balancing view, pulled out of the public consultations in September, saying the process was clearly intended to produce a positive outcome.

Greenpeace, which took up the legal case in February, said its lawyers would study the government's decision in detail and it reserved the right to go back to court.

"We believe we have a very strong case but will not be bounced into taking a decision," Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe told Reuters.

The main issue for the group of academics from universities including Oxford, Warwick, Sussex, Newcastle, Cardiff and Manchester is disposal of waste from the new nuclear plants.

"The government consultation documents said this issue had been resolved. That is simply not true," said Paul Dorfman of Warwick University, one of the report's authors.

CoRWM, the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, said in 2006 nuclear waste, which remains toxic for centuries, should be kept forever in a specially built safe storage facility deep under ground.

But while the government pointed to this as the solution to waste from any new plants, CoRWM said it only meant this solution to apply to waste from Britain's old military nuclear program dating back to the 1950s, so called legacy waste.

The academics also accused the government of glossing over security considerations, the true costs of nuclear and alternative renewable energy sources, the availability of uranium fuel and the siting of new nuclear plants given sea level rises due to global warming.

Underlying the objections is the fact that the government green light is not actually legally necessary -- there is no legal barrier to any utility now opting to build a nuclear plant, although there is a lot of planning red tape.

"Although the government has said no public money will be involved in any new nuclear plants, a positive declaration must indicate government commitment in the final event and that can only mean taxpayers' money," said Dorfman.

The report noted that a new nuclear plant being built in Finland was not only two years behind schedule but already 50 percent over budget, a fate it suggested would not be escaped by new plants in Britain to the detriment of alternatives.

(Reporting by Jeremy Lovell; editing by Richard Williams)

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