City & Corporate: Nuclear renaissance requires City funds

After a honeymoon in the 1960s and 1970s when nuclear power was hailed as the answer to the world's energy needs, the mood changed.

The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in the US and the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl brought safety fears to the fore - distrust, concerns about the storage of nuclear waste, and shock at the cost of decommissioning obsolete power plants. The net result has been no new nuclear power stations in the UK since Sizewell B was completed in the late 1980s.

But the nuclear industry has, at last, got its PR act together. The result is a significant shift of mood built not around the advocacy of the atom, but by pointing out the shortcomings of the alternatives. The PM has picked up on action against global warming and greenhouse gasses as a major theme for Britain's presidency of the G8 and the European Union.

Nuclear energy omits no greenhouse gases.

Concerns about the cost, environmental impact and unreliability of wind farms have also been played up. Industry leaders have warned that the rapid phasing out of coal could lead to electricity shortages by the end of the decade. British Nuclear Fuels Ltd has started explaining to the City how much opportunity it has through ownership of Westinghouse, a major designer of nuclear power stations.

The result of all these subtle pressures was heard in an unguarded remark last month from backbencher Martin O'Neill, who is well plugged in through his chairing of the DTI select committee. He would not be surprised, he said, to see a White Paper on nuclear power after the election.

But convincing politicians and the public is the first stage of this PR campaign. Existing plants were built when electricity was still a nationalised industry. Now all the players are in the private sector and will have to find the billions needed to build the plants. The bigger challenge lies in persuading the City and its investors to come up with the money.

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