LONDON The battle against climate change must not take precedence over the need to guarantee energy security, British industry minister John Hutton was quoted on Thursday as saying in an apparent policy change.
The government has often said climate change is the biggest threat facing the world.
"Of course we've got to tackle climate change, it's a real and present danger for used (sic)," Hutton told the Daily Telegraph in an interview on the newspaper's website.
"But we've also go to be absolutely clear that our energy policy has got to be figured first and foremost with a view to supplying Britain with affordable and secure energy it needs for the future."
Hutton's remarks, in an interview on the energy crisis due to the spiraling costs of gas and electricity, come amid rising tensions with Russia over its bitter rift with Georgia which has raised fears for future security of gas supplies to Europe.
A spokeswoman for Hutton's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said there had been no change in policy and that energy security and climate change were considered of equal importance.
"There is no change of government policy. Energy security has always been a priority. John (Hutton) is the energy minister and it is his priority to make sure that the UK has enough energy in the future," she said.
But environmentalists expressed bewilderment at the apparent message from Hutton, an advocate for new nuclear and coal power stations to fill the energy void that will be left when many of the existing plants are forced to close over the next decade.
"The government repeatedly tells us climate change is the biggest threat we face and this seems to suggest that he (Hutton) doesn't even get the basics," said Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Dave Timms.
Hutton is pushing for a rapid deal with EDF Energy, the British arm of French utility EDF, to press ahead with building new nuclear power plants in Britain to replace the exiting ageing fleet which supplies 19 percent of the country's electricity.
He also wants a new fleet of coal-fired power stations with the proviso that they must be built ready to have carbon emissions reduction and storage technology fitted when it becomes commercially available.
"We cannot turn our back on any proven form of technology. We cannot afford to say no to new coal, new gas or new nuclear," he was quoted as saying on the newspaper's website.
Environment campaigners say nuclear is not a solution because of its highly toxic waste and that unabated coal stations simply add to global warming with no guarantee of if or when carbon capture and storage technology will be available.
Six activists from Greenpeace will appear in court on Monday changed with criminal damage and trespass after they last year briefly forced the coal-fired Kingsnorth power station in Kent to close to highlight the climate crisis.
German owner E.ON wants to build a new "capture-ready" coal-fired station on the site.
(Reporting by Jeremy Lovell; editing by Gerard Wynn)