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Fall-out on atomic energy plans

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Tony Blair met with a hard rain of criticism this morning, after he appeared to come down in favour of nuclear power in a speech last night.

In his speech at a CBI dinner last night, Blair said nuclear plants were back on the agenda “with a vengeance” in the bid to tackle climate change and dependence on unreliable fossil fuel supplies.

Commentators have said the shift deliberately preempts an upcoming DTI report. The DTI finished its consultation period a month ago, and is supposed to publish a summary before informing a policy decision “in early summer”.

Widely acknowledged nuclear dissenter Margaret Beckett was promoted from DEFRA to Foreign Secretary in the reshuffle. Elliot Morley was stripped of his climate change ministerial brief too. The BBC reports his criticism of the apparent shift: “No private sector company is going to take on the long-term risks, the cost of decommissioning, the storage, reprocessing, and the responsibility for the waste.”

Morley also said the government's environmental organ did not have enough involvement in technical parts of the review.

Anti-nuclear pressure group Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said: “It's clear that Tony Blair is fixated with nuclear power and is determined to oversee a new generation of nuclear reactors rather than investing in clean and sustainable options that already exist. It's probably no coincidence that a number of nuclear sceptics were removed from key cabinet posts earlier this month.”

Conservatives said while the PM has already made up his mind, they would instead await the findings of their own review. The Tories' energy review is due in summer, from which they hope to make good on recent environmental overtures made of leader David Cameron, with policies.

Lib Dem trade and industry spokesman Ed Davey echoed concerns regarding the costs of a nuclear future to Channel 4 News. He said: “The danger is [Blair's] will be a legacy of a high nuclear tax for every family in the country because we all know nuclear is not economic.”

Nuclear advocates say innovations make the risks and investment costs associated with nuclear power more manageable than for the previous generation of post-war plants. Alternative renewable technologies cannot bear the weight of greenhouse gas emission targets, they believe.

The recent climate change review judged that Britain would miss its target of a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. ®

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