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The government is set to give its blessing to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants when it publishes the results of its energy review.

The review is also expected to cover renewable energy sources, and to look at ways of reducing the amount of power consumed in the UK. But the government will argue that nuclear plants will help cut greenhouse emissions, and will be cost effective.

Tony Blair asked for the review last November and has given plenty of signals that nuclear power will be back on the menu.

This widely anticipated shift in policy has come under fire from people who remember what all the fuss was about last time (i.e. what do we do with the waste, and how close would you like to be living to a plant that goes boom?), and his ministers are now trying to play down the idea that there is a rush towards nuclear power.

Alistair Darling told BBC Breakfast: "At the moment about 20 per cent of the electricity that we use is generated from Britain's nuclear power stations. In 20 years time that will come down to about six per cent."

"Now see it's not a question of a massive dash for nuclear or anything like that. The question is do we replace our present ageing fleet of nuclear power stations or do we not?"

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, told the BBC: "We can tackle climate change and meet our energy needs by cutting energy waste, harnessing the power of renewables and using fossil fuels more efficiently," he said. "And we can do this without wasting more money on dirty and dangerous nuclear power."

He argued that the energy review should have been an opportunity to find ways for Britain to lead the way in reducing carbon output.

Meanwhile, other critics expressed concern that investment in nuclear power stations would mean less cash for renewable energy projects. ®

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