BRITAIN SHOULD be ready to build a new generation of nuclear power stations if 'renewable' energy sources are unable to deliver consistent supply at acceptable prices by 2007, the government's energy review said last week.
Boosting nuclear capacity should also be considered if renewable energy fails to help meet targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 10% on 1990 levels by 2010, says the review.
'There are good grounds for keeping the nuclear option open, ' says the review, produced by the Cabinet Office policy and innovation unit's (PIU) for Prime Minister Tony Blair.
A review of how the renewable energy sector is performing is due in 2006/07. Government should use it to decide on commissioning new nuclear power stations, says the PIU.
New nuclear power stations should be exempt from environmental taxes currently levied against coal, gas and existing nuclear power, to make it cost competitive, says the review.
And the planning system should be streamlined to enable rapid delivery of new stations, the PIU urges.
But skills shortages could hamper efforts to get a nuclear power station programme going, sources in the energy sector warned this week.
Much of the sector's workforce is within 10 years of retirement, leading to rapid decline of its skills and experience base in the coming decade, said Institution of Nuclear Engineers secretary William Hurst.
Skills are not being replenished at a grass roots level, he said. No degree courses in nuclear engineering are offered in the UK, and the only available postgraduate course is competing with other sectors for graduates from engineering and science courses.
And with construction of nuclear stations going ahead in the US, Canada, South Africa and Asia, British staff are increasingly sought overseas, said Babtie Group senior engineer Jonathan Haynes.
In response Government has set up a nuclear skills group within the Department of Trade & Industry to work out a strategy for recruiting and retaining staff.