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Nuclear decision, at last


Finally, after much dithering, the government has brought out its white paper on nuclear power. Nuclear power stations currently provide 20 per cent of our electricity, but they are all scheduled to close over the next 15 years or so. They need to be replaced to ensure Britain is not over-dependent on foreign sources of energy, such as the Middle East or Russia, as North Sea oil and gas runs out – and to ensure that we have the energy we need to run industry and light our homes. As it is, they may not be built in time to avoid electricity shortages.

Magnox power station
The ageing Magnox power station at Oldbury: due to be decommissioned this December.

Well-constructed nuclear power plants are extremely clean, and radioactive material produces vastly more energy than the equivalent amount of fossil fuel. One nuclear fuel pellet about two centimetres long produces the same amount of electricity as 1.5 tonnes of coal. Nuclear fission produces no greenhouse gases. Renewable energies can and should be encouraged, but the idea that wind and solar power could provide Britain's energy needs is simply wishful thinking. They currently produce about 2 per cent of the world's energy.

There are four existing reactors in Scotland but the Scottish National Party, unhelpful as ever, says that it will use planning laws, which are devolved to Holyrood, to fight the construction of any replacements.

Six British energy companies, including British Energy, are likely to put in bids to build these new power stations – although the most experienced builder of nuclear stations, Westinghouse, was sold by government-owned BNFL to Toshiba in 2006. We need to ensure that British firms get the contracts – and that the stations get built.