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Building new nuclear power plants would be "unsafe, uneconomic, unpopular and largely irrelevant" to the problem of climate change, Friends of the Earth said today.

The warning follows news of a leaked briefing from the new Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry for incoming Secretary of State Alan Johnson. The briefing from senior civil servants reportedly makes a strong case for a quick decision on whether or not to support the building of a series of new nuclear power stations in the UK.

Friends of the Earth said that the reported briefing for the new ministers appeared to be misleading: carbon dioxide reduction targets are not being missed because of reduced nuclear output, but because of big increases in emissions from coal-fired power stations. This has not been helped by interventions from the former DTI to water down efforts to clean them up.

Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper said:

"Nuclear power is unsafe, uneconomic, unpopular and largely irrelevant as a practical answer to tackling climate change. Even doubling nuclear capacity would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at most eight per cent, while adding to a toxic legacy of nuclear waste which the taxpayer will most likely have to pay for and which will remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years. Nuclear sites are also vulnerable to terrorist attack.

"Urgent action is needed on climate change. But instead of flogging the dead horse of nuclear power, the Government should change the failing policies that are causing carbon dioxide levels to soar. This must include tackling emissions from coal-fired power stations, putting more resources into energy efficiency, researching the viability of carbon capture and storage, promoting the full range of renewable sources of energy and taking control emissions from the transport sector.

"Although civil servants appear to be backing plans for new nuclear stations, Ministers must take a reality check before following their advice. Voters did not have proposals for new stations put to them in the Labour Party manifesto and it is a brave Government that thinks it can push this one though without a popular mandate. If Tony Blair wants another fight with the green lobby, this is the way to do it".

Friends of the Earth is urging Alan Johnson to scrutinise the advice he has received carefully. The right way to tackle climate change is through cleaning up fossil fuel use and investment in improving energy efficiency and the full range of renewable sources of energy.

Nuclear power is not the solution to climate change. The risks involved in building new stations mean that no-one in the private sector would finance them without massive subsidies from the tax-payer, and the idea that the idea that the public should pay for them is outrageous.

Even a doubling of existing nuclear capacity would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at most 8%. Nuclear power creates highly dangerous radioactive waste, which we still don't know how to deal with. It remains a threat for thousands of years and will cost billions of pounds to manage. Nuclear sites are also a potential target for terrorism and if we were to advocate nuclear power as the solution to climate change other countries may follow, leading to increases in the availability of potentially deadly materials and threatening our security.

For more information see Friends of the Earth's reports:

Tackling climate change without nuclear power (PDF)

What the Government should do to tackle climate change (PDF)

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If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.


Published by Friends of the Earth Trust