LONDON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The British government must remain resolute in its backing for a new fleet of nuclear power stations despite the likelihood of a fresh legal challenge, the head of power giant E.ON UK EONG.DE said on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the government gave the green light to a new generation of nuclear power plants nearly a year after environment group Greenpeace won a court case forcing it to undertake a lengthy public consultation on the issue.
“The government must hold its nerve on nuclear power because inevitably there will be more judicial challenges,” E.ON chief executive Paul Golby told Reuters. “These could be on the waste issue or the consultation itself.”
Greenpeace, which in September pulled out of the public consultations describing them as being heavily biased towards nuclear power, has twice in the past two months written to the government raising a series of questions on the issue.
Since the original court ruling last February Greenpeace has insisted it would resort to the law again if it felt justified.
On Wednesday, the group’s head, John Sauven, said he was still waiting for answers to his letters and consulting lawyers before finally deciding what course of action to follow.
“It is a very live issue at the moment and there is work being done on it by our lawyers,” he told Reuters. “What transpires from that in terms of whether we will or not go back to court I do not yet know the answer to.”
The government says the new nuclear plants, which it says must be privately financed, are needed to help Britain cut its climate warming carbon emissions and keep the lights burning.
Britain’s ageing fleet of nuclear power stations provide 18 percent of the country’s electricity, a figure that is set to drop sharply over the next decade as they are progressively retired due to old age.
Leading energy consultancy Inenco, part of Spice Plc SPI.L, said this week the retirement of the nuclear power plants and many coal-fired ones as well, could lead to power shortages within four years.
Golby, who has said his company is interested in building “more than one” nuclear power station in Britain, urged the government to clear the way quickly for new plants because manufacturers would not wait.
The government is pressing ahead with clearing away planning restrictions on new power plants and with the pre-approval of a number of reactor designs.
But it is facing a serious shortage of experienced staff to take on the work of vetting the designs that have been submitted.
“Unless we start moving quickly the supply chain will become a problem,” Golby said. “The manufacturers are licensing their designs in China, Europe, South Africa. If the wait gets too long they will simply go elsewhere.”
Competitor EDF Energy, a subsidiary of French power major Electricite de France SA EDF.PA, has said it wants to build four new nuclear plants in Britain and hopes to have the first one on stream by 2017.
Golby would not say exactly when his first nuclear plant might be running, but said it would probably not be before 2020.
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