Britain unveils nuclear energy expansion plans

LONDON Mon Nov 9, 2009 2:15pm EST

British Energy's Heysham nuclear power station in northern England is pictured in this April 14, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Darren Staples/Files

British Energy's Heysham nuclear power station in northern England is pictured in this April 14, 2008 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Staples/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain set out plans Monday to speed up the planning process for big wind farms and new nuclear power plants and named 10 sites where reactors could be built.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said new nuclear plants, combined with cleaner coal plants and more renewable energy, would help Britain to secure its energy supplies and cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

About 20 percent of Britain's electricity was generated from existing nuclear power reactors in the second quarter of 2009, but all except one of them is due to shut by 2025.

Previous attempts to build new nuclear plants have been delayed by the exhaustive planning process. It took six years and cost 30 millions pounds ($50.33 million) to secure planning consent to build the Sizewell B reactor in southern England.

Under the new proposals, decisions on plants bigger than 50 megawatts, or 100 megawatts for offshore wind, will be cut to one year.

"The current planning system is a barrier to this shift (to low carbon)," Miliband said.

"It serves neither the interests of energy security, the interests of the low carbon transition, nor the interests of people living in areas where infrastructure may be built, for the planning process to take years to come to a decision."

The list of possible new nuclear power stations includes Kirksanton, a site in Cumbria, northern England, proposed by German utility RWE which is not close to any existing nuclear facilities and overlaps a small wind farm.

The government rejected EDF Energy's Dungeness power station on the south coast of England as a possible site for new reactors because of environmental and flooding concerns.

But it approved EDF sites at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk where the French energy giant plans to build four reactors.

"It means we can prepare to take the next steps in our plan for a multi-billion pound investment in the UK," EDF Energy Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz said in a statement.

"It is in the public interest for the UK to build at least 15 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity which would be sufficient to meet at least 30 percent of our electricity demand by 2030."

Britain currently has about 11 GW of nuclear power plants.

EDF plans to get its first new reactor in Britain running by the end of 2017, but said the multi-billion pound new build program remained subject to the "right investment framework being in place."

Ten of the 11 sites which had been proposed by some of Europe's biggest utilities for building new nuclear power plants are next to existing atomic installations.

But they want significant and long-term charges on rival climate-warming power plants to support their multi-billion pound investments in low-carbon nuclear because current carbon emissions prices are not high enough.

Miliband told journalists Monday there would be no "specific" public subsidy for nuclear. A stronger carbon price would support nuclear and renewable energy development over dirtier coal plants.

THREE SITES

Three other sites, at Kingsnorth, southern England and Owston Ferry and Druridge Bay, both in northeast England, may be suitable for new nuclear plants to be built after 2025, Miliband said.

The opposition Conservative Party, expected to win an election due by June 2010, said the announcement had come 10 years too late to replace existing capacity before it closes.

"What we have heard...is a declaration of a national emergency for our energy security," Conservative energy spokesman Greg Clark told parliament. "Why did they leave it so late to act?"

The Trades Union Congress, an umbrella body which represents Britain's unions, said the new nuclear plants and other energy measures would create up to half a million jobs at a time of fragile economic recovery.

"It will create many new job opportunities and a more streamlined planning process will avoid lengthy delays," said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber.

The government also announced plans to fund the development of new technology to capture climate-warming carbon from coal fired plants.

For reaction to the energy proposals, click on

(Writing by Peter Griffiths, editing by Anthony Barker and Sue Thomas)

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