(Adds Liberal Democrat comment paragraphs 7, 8)
LONDON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - British ministers backed a new generation of nuclear power stations at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Asked if any minister had spoken in opposition when the cabinet discussed whether to give the green light to new nuclear plants, the spokeswoman said: “Not that I’m aware of.”
Nuclear and energy issues had been the main items on the agenda at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting and there had been a “very good discussion,” the spokeswoman said.
Her comments reinforced expectations that Business Secretary John Hutton will give the go-ahead to new nuclear power stations when he makes an eagerly awaited statement on energy policy to parliament on Thursday.
Britain’s decision will be closely watched by other governments and by nuclear operators which say they could have new British plants running by 2017.
Environmental campaigners and the Liberal Democrats, the third biggest party in parliament, attacked the government’s support for new plants.
“This is a flawed decision based on a sham consultation,” the party’s environment spokesman Steve Webb.
“There is a real risk that focusing on new nuclear plants will undermine attempts to find a cleaner, greener, more sustainable and secure solution,” he said in a statement.
John Sauven, executive director of environmental group Greenpeace, said new nuclear plants would not solve Britain’s energy problems.
“Nuclear power can only deliver a 4 percent cut in carbon emissions some time after 2025. That’s too little, and too late, while generations to come will be left with an expensive legacy of our nuclear waste to clean up,” he said.
The British government concluded after a six-month energy review in 2006 that it needed new nuclear power plants, more electricity from wind and waves and cuts in energy consumption to fight global warming and reduce rising dependence on expensive imported oil and gas.
But last February a High Court judge overturned the government’s initial go-ahead for new nuclear plants, saying it had failed to consult the public properly.
The government was forced to conduct a new public consultation which ended last October.
Since the government’s initial decision was announced, Brown has replaced Tony Blair as prime minister.
Greenpeace says a decision in favour of nuclear this week would still be unlawful, largely because people were given flawed information in the second consultation and because there is still no plan for radioactive waste.
Nuclear power plants currently provide 18 percent of Britain’s electricity. But all but one of the plants is due to close within 15 years.
Nuclear power is seen by some as a weapon against global warming because it emits no climate-changing carbon gases.
Opponents say nuclear power is expensive and dangerous. (Additional reporting by Pete Harrison; editing by James Jukwey)
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