IT was Aneurin Bevan who spoke of Britain's good fortune in being “an island built on coal and surrounded by fish”. Bevan did not live to see the coal mines closed and the North Sea denuded of cod. Nor could he have imagined the North Sea oil and gas bonanza which, however, is already almost over as drilling becomes more difficult and returns less rewarding. Yesterday, when answering questions at his twice-yearly appearance in front of the House of Commons liaison committee, Tony Blair gave the clearest indication yet that he favours a new generation of nuclear power stations to guarantee Britain's energy needs in the future. He said he believed that nuclear power is once again a serious option because “the facts have changed over the last couple of years”. According to the reports of the meeting he did not say what were the facts that had changed so recently; perhaps he was referring to security considerations and to the realisation that contracts for supplies from unstable countries could easily put Britain at serious risk. However, the problem has been apparent for more than two years. Many of Britain's coal-fired power stations do not meet current clean–air regulations and will, anyway, be due to close down in the next twenty years; the twelve obsolescent nuclear power stations have only a similar life span. Alternative sources such as wind turbines and wave power are proving less efficient than they were once thought to be. It is understandable, therefore, that nuclear power is once more becoming an attractive option. Its advocates say that it is clean, relatively cheap and safe; they point to the trouble-free operation of nuclear reactors in many countries, from France to Finland to Japan. Its opponents say that the current methods of costing nuclear power hide its true costs and point also to the 50 billion pounds bill for clearing up some of the accumulated waste of the existing stations. The ordinary citizen, bemused by these conflicting claims, probably most wants to know whether nuclear power plans are really 100 per cent safe in normal conditions and can also be guaranteed to be so against terrorist attack. PP Decisions are needed urgently but they should be based on the fullest possible exposure of all the relevant facts.


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