Britain Considers New Nuclear Power Plants Rising oil prices and dwindling natural gas supplies have Britons worried about energy issues. They're pondering the possibility of building more nuclear power stations, a proposal that divides the nation.
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Britain Considers New Nuclear Power Plants

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Britain Considers New Nuclear Power Plants

Britain Considers New Nuclear Power Plants

Britain Considers New Nuclear Power Plants

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Rising oil prices and dwindling natural gas supplies have Britons worried about energy issues. They're pondering the possibility of building more nuclear power stations, a proposal that divides the nation.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, battles between drug lords and police are scaring residents of the streets of Acapulco right before spring break.

CHADWICK: First this, President Bush has been touring this country this week talking about various energy alternatives to expensive and dwindling supplies of oil. He's especially fond of talking up nuclear power.

BRAND: In Britain nuclear energy is also getting another look. Most energy industry leaders there believe the country could face black-outs soon unless new nuclear power plants are built. NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD, reporting:

Suddenly more than 30 years after the heyday of nuclear power plant construction in Europe people are talking about a possible renaissance. The debate is particularly fierce in Britain. Shares of the U.K.'s energy provided by nuclear power is about the same as in the United States, roughly 20 percent. All but one of Britain's nuclear power stations are due to be decommissioned within 15 years and that 20 percent of energy has to come from somewhere. Alan McDonald is a nuclear power expert at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

Mr. ALAN MCDONALD (International Atomic Energy Agency): Currently, the center of expansion in the world of nuclear power is in Asia, but the difference between a renaissance of nuclear power and more of a plateau may well be what happens in Western Europe. And Britain is a huge question mark, whether it decides to replace nuclear with nuclear or go in a different direction.

GIFFORD: A different direction would be either continuing to rely on fossil fuels such as coal and gas, which emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide when burnt, or increasing investment in renewable energy such as wind, sun, and water. Ian Hore-Lacy is Director of Communications for the World Nuclear Association in London. He says nuclear power is the obvious solution.

Mr. IAN HORE-LACY (Director of Communications, World Nuclear Association): The new nuclear plants that are available are very economically competitive. The second reason is concern about emissions of carbon dioxide. And the third reason is the question of energy security. Suddenly, of course, Britain is not self-sufficient and that is a net importer of gas and that makes the country extremely vulnerable.

GIFFORD: This vulnerability was made especially clear when Russia cut off the gas supply that runs to Western Europe through Ukraine earlier this year. Many scientists in Britain, including the government's chief scientific advisor, have come out in favor of the proposal to build 12 new nuclear power stations over the next 15 years. But there are still major hurdles, including the huge cost of decommissioning nuclear plants, the question of what to do about nuclear waste, and especially lingering doubts among the general population. John Warren and Colin Ginger are both residents of the small town of Leiston in Eastern England, just a mile from Sizewell Nuclear Power Station.

Mr. JOHN WARREN (Resident, Leiston, England): It's not actually the building, it's actually the stories and the waste products from the power stations that worry me. Which anything could happen if the terrorists got in charge or even if it got down inside, there is no way they could protect Leiston against a terrorist attack.

Mr. COLIN GINGER (Resident, Leiston, England): I am greatly opposed to running a new program of nuclear build. We've already started on the wind power and we should continue to develop the wind power.

GIFFORD: Stuart Weaver is head of the Ecotech Center in the small town of Swaffham to the north of Sizewell Nuclear Power Station.

Mr. STUART WEAVER (Director, Eco-tech Center): The U.K. has the largest wind resource in Europe and that's what we're trying to tap into with turbines such as this.

GIFFORD: Weaver is standing in the viewing platform at the top of one of Swaffham's pair of 200 foot wind turbines. The huge blades of the windmill sweeping around behind him. Weaver says between them the two turbines provide enough electricity for about 2000 homes. Nearly two-thirds the population of Swaffham.

Mr. WEAVER: There is undeniably so much potential for using the sun, wind, and water to provide us with our energy needs.

GIFFORD: The criticism of renewable energy is that at the moment it's more costly and there's doubt whether it can grow from providing 4 percent currently to 20 percent of the country's energy needs by the year 2020. Whether nuclear power in Britain gets its renaissance or not, there's one thing that all sides agree on. That energy efficiency is as important as energy production.

Britain's Energy Saving Trust says that if every one of the country's 25 million household replaced just three normal light bulbs with energy efficient ones, enough energy would be saved in a year to power the street lighting of the entire country. Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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