By Fiona Harvey and Rebecca Bream
Published: October 24 2007 20:04 | Last updated: October 24 2007 20:04
Fresh legal challenges are expected to hamper plans to build new nuclear power stations in the UK.
The government expects further attempts to take it to court in the coming months as it brings forward its plans for nuclear energy, according to leaked documents prepared by the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and seen by the Financial Times.
The plans were set back earlier this year when Greenpeace, the environmental campaigning group, won a High Court ruling that the government had failed to consult the public sufficiently on its plans to build a new generation of nuclear plants.
The resulting consultation has just been completed, and will be published in early November. A new legal challenge could be based on the same consultation. Greenpeace has complained to the Market Research Standards body that the governmentâ€™s consultation was biased in favour of nuclear, a claim that is being investigated.
But the leaked documents show that the government fears there could be a further challenge if it presses ahead with plans to publish a white paper on nuclear power for December 17, as green groups may claim this leaves insufficient time for the results of the consultation to be taken into account.
Greenpeace said: â€œWe are scrutinising the process and if the government appears to be in breach of the High Court ruling, we would take them back to court.â€
The leaked documents show that BERR is strongly in favour of new nuclear power, arguing against the European Unionâ€™s target of generating 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020 because of fears that it might â€œundermineâ€ investment in nuclear energy.
But energy companies were puzzled by government fears that renewables would get in the way of building new nuclear energy plants. They said they saw no contradiction between investing in renewables and in nuclear energy.
Andy Duff, chief executive of RWE npower, which is considering investing in nuclear power in the UK, said: â€œGiven the right regulatory framework, investment will flow to both nuclear and renewables. The key is to set a clear and stable policy that rewards low carbon investment with the minimum distortion of the energy markets.â€
EDF Energy pointed to its analysis of the future of nuclear and renewable energy in the UK, which showed that one would not displace the other.
Vincent de Rivaz, EDFâ€™s chief executive, told business leaders earlier this month: â€œWe say we do not need nuclear energy instead of renewables, we need renewables in addition to nuclear. Renewables will be an important part of our energy mix We are going to need it all.â€
He said the loser from investment in nuclear power would be gas-fired generation: â€œWithout nuclear the technology most likely to fill the energy gap are combined cycle gas turbines. If nuclear can pre-empt some investment in gas, the UK will benefit from greater diversity, greater security and lower carbon emissions.â€
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007