NUCLEAR power must be part of attempts to address global warming, according to a government-sponsored study of climate change.
In an apocalyptic assessment endorsed by Tony Blair, an international group of scientists warned in the study published yesterday that increasing temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect pose a pressing threat to humanity.
"It is clear from the work presented that the risks of climate change may well be greater than we thought," the Prime Minister said of the study, which forecasts the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and a resultant rise in sea-levels of up to 16 feet over the next millennium. In response, the scientists argue, governments must use a wide range of tools, nuclear power included.
The document, Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, brings together evidence presented at a conference hosted by the UK Meteorological Office at Exeter last February. In it, the head of the British Antarctic Survey, Professor Chris Rapley, says the huge West Antarctic Ice Sheet may also be starting to disintegrate. He writes: "The last report characterised Antarctica as a slumbering giant in terms of climate change. I'd say it is now an awakened giant."
The report comes as ministers consider authorising the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors in Britain. Adding urgency to that review, the most recent official figures show that the UK's carbon emissions are rising again.
Many environmental groups and some Labour MPs are opposed to new atomic power stations, although the Prime Minister is understood to be leaning towards the nuclear option.
Unlike coal-power and gas-power plants, nuclear stations do not produce . "There are no magic bullets; a portfolio of options is needed and excluding any options will increase costs," the scientists conclude.
Governments should use a variety of means to cut emissions in "wedges", including increasing energy efficiency, nuclear energy, low-emission transport fuels and fossil-fuel power plants with carbon-capture technology, they said.
The scientists also recommend that poorer nations consider investing in nuclear power plants. "Efficiency improvements and alternative energy supply such as nuclear and renewables are of priority for developing countries to contribute [to attempts to cut emissions]," they conclude.
Nuclear energy is likely to prove the most contentious aspect of the Prime Minister's attempts to meet his targets to reduce Britain's carbon emissions. One criticism raised of nuclear power is that the relative scarcity of the uranium it relies on means it is not a long-term option.
But in another study published yesterday, Bert Metz and Detlef van Vuuren of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, dismiss those suggestions. "New discoveries of uranium resources, use of thorium [an alternative nuclear fuel], more efficient technologies and production of uranium from seawater could, at least in theory, imply that this option is almost without technical limits," the researchers write.
Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, has expressed doubts about the value of nuclear power, but yesterday insisted it has to be an option for Britain. "Once you have put in all the energy required to construct the nuclear power stations, it is actually a low-carbon form of energy," she said, although she conceded that nuclear has "other problems", especially how to dispose of waste.