In February 2003 the UK government’s energy white paper stated that the option would be kept open without openly endorsing the technology, drawing criticism from both pro- and anti-nuclear lobbyists. Explaining that move, Blair said that it is not sensible to close the door on nuclear simply because of public concern but: “If we are going to develop a new generation of nuclear power stations, we are going to have to do a lot more work on reassuring people both on the cost and on the safety grounds and we are going to have to have a debate in which people understand the science and, in particular, which I think is the real issue to do with nuclear power, the difference between a nuclear power station and the development of nuclear weapons.” An additional problem is that of a potential skills shortage which may emerge as the UK workforce ages before new build is finally required.
Blair said that there is a real issue facing Britain about security and diversity of energy supply in the medium to long term and intimated that such a debate over the role of nuclear may have to begin in few years time. “You cannot remove it from the agenda if you are serious about the issue of climate change,” he said. Chris Marchese, chief operating officer of British Nuclear Group, told delegates at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference in Obninsk on 29 June that nuclear would not be able to compete with imported gas in the UK until about 2010.
Blair’s words form the latest in a series of front page environmental and pro-nuclear stories in the UK. Earlier this year, the government’s chief science advisor, David King, stated his belief that climate change poses a more severe threat than that of terrorism. James Lovelock, founder of the Gaia theory, has publicly backed nuclear as the only way to maintain our lifestyles and tackle carbon emissions. In addition, The Guardian newspaper printed a letter from two former UK environment ministers, John Gummer and Michael Meacher, criticising the government’s lack of firm action.