GREEN campaigners last night hit out at the Government's decision to back a new generation of nuclear power stations, calling it "too little, too late at a high price".
Greenpeace is already considering a fresh legal challenge after winning a High Court ruling last year over complaints that the Government's consultation process into nuclear power was flawed.
Yesterday its executive director John Sauven said: "This is bad news for Britain's energy security and bad news for our efforts to beat climate change.
"Nuclear power can only deliver a four per cent cut in emissions some time after 2025, and that's too little too late at too high a price.
"We need energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state of the art decentralised power stations like those in Scandinavia. That's the way to defeat climate change and ensure energy security."
Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper added: "New reactors are not the answer to UK energy problems and will do little to tackle climate change."
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone branded the decision the "mistake of a generation", adding: "New nuclear power stations will do little to combat climate change, but will poison Britain's future with a legacy of radioactive waste for dealing with which the Government has advanced no serious strategy."
Steve Webb, for the Liberal Democrats, said the nuclear technology could be obsolete by the time any plants were built.
The announcement was also criticised by a number of backbench Labour MPs, including Morley and Rothwell MP Colin Challen, who said: "This statement is as full of holes as the Sellafield reprocessing plant."
Meanwhile the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney, re-iterated Scotland's stance against developing new nuclear power stations, saying: "The risks and uncertainties of new nuclear power, in terms of waste disposal, decommissioning, security and health concerns, or cost, are obviously far too great."
The Irish government also signalled its concern that safety issues, particularly from plants located along the Irish Sea, would impact upon Ireland.
But the plans were welcomed by pro-nuclear and business groups. The chief executive of energy giant E.On, Paul Golby, said: "New nuclear power stations can make a very real impact in the battle against global warming and ensure that we as a country are less reliant on imported gas, particularly as world oil and gas prices continue to increase relentlessly."
The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost, said nuclear power as part of a balanced and mixed supply of energy was essential if Britain was to secure energy at a time when traditional sources were threatened or in short supply.
The Conservatives also supported the plans.
Tory spokesman Alan Duncan said: "Our vision on nuclear is clear. We must refine the planning system, we must have a price for carbon to establish a long-term climate for investment, we must ensure there is clarity on waste and decommissioning.
"But on no account should there be any kind of subsidy for nuclear power."
Next page: Questions and answers QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
What is the announcement?
The Government has formally backed a new generation of nuclear power stations to replace Britain's ageing reactors after a review was carried out into the future of nuclear power in the UK.
Why does the Government want more nuclear power stations?
The existing nuclear power stations, which are scheduled to close over the next 20 years, need to be replaced to ensure Britain is not over-dependent on foreign sources of energy as North Sea oil runs out.
Nuclear power stations currently provide 20 per cent of UK electricity.
What about renewable energy?
Ministers believe there should be a mix of electricity generating methods, to ensure continuity of supply.
How much will it cost and who will pay for it?
Legislation is expected to be unveiled protecting taxpayers from high costs by making the nuclear operators pay.
But critics say it could add as much as 250 a year to household electricity bills. A detailed consultation on how the costs are met is expected to be launched in the spring.
Opponents say the clean-up bill for the current generation of reactors could reach 70bn.
Where will the new reactors be sited?
They are expected to be built on or near the sites of existing reactors. The most likely location of new reactors is in the south of England. Although the exact locations have not yet been decided, a report prepared for Ministers last year identified 14 possible sites. A review into exactly where they will be located is expected to report by 2009.
Where will the nuclear waste go?
Ministers want to continue to store it at temporary facilities at Sellafield, on the Cumbrian coast, until a suitable site for an underground bunker can be found. Another option might be to refurbish Sellafield's reprocessing plant or even build a new one.
What is the argument against the new plan?
It is expensive and a danger to the environment because it leaves waste that remains a hazard for tens of thousands of years. Campaigners say the sites could be targets for terrorists. They argue that instead of nuclear power the Government should increase investment in renewable sources such as wind and wave power, and carbon technology in order to meet its energy needs, maintain energy security and tackle climate change. Greenpeace is planning a legal challenge.