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Gone with the wind. Over the next few decades, wind, waves, and tidal power will replace Britain's aging nuclear stations.

Britain Abandons the Nuclear Option

CAMBRIDGE, U.K.--Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced this week that it wants to up the ante on reducing carbon emissions over the next half-century, without building any new nuclear power stations. Lauded by environmentalists as "a crucial landmark," the Energy White Paper is nonetheless taking heavy flak from energy experts.

"Climate change is a clear and present danger," says Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt. "The government is serious about cutting carbon emissions, but we know this cannot be achieved without a fundamental review of the way we produce and consume energy."

Over the next 50 years, the U.K. aims to cut its carbon dioxide output by 60% from today's levels, substantially more than is required by the Kyoto Protocol. It intends to do so by setting tougher standards for energy efficiency and by boosting renewable energy from its current 3% of total energy capacity to 10% by 2010 and 20% by 2020. If achieved, this ramping up of renewables will offset the decline of nuclear power as the country's 33 nuclear reactors--which now produce 26% of Britain's energy--reach the end of their working lives over the next 30 years. But the government has not shut the door: If renewables do not fill the gap, new nuclear stations could be built.

Energy experts consulted by Science were generally skeptical of the government's plans. "To try to reduce carbon dioxide by 60% is a fantastic thing to do. But I don't think it is remotely achievable," says Ian Fells of the University of Newcastle on Tyne. And Mike Laughton, an electrical engineer at London's Queen Mary College, believes that a 20% share of renewable energy is wishful thinking. "It is totally aspirational and not realistic at all."

The government has put several measures in place to achieve its ambition. There is $95 million in new money for renewable projects, raising spending on renewable energy to $550 million over 4 years. Further tax breaks will endow the renewables industry with an estimated $1.6 billion a year by 2010. In addition, planning regulations will be loosened to speed approval of onshore and offshore wind farms.

Related sites
The White Paper online
Ian Fells
Mike Laughton