London — With Britain already poised for a lengthy public discussion on the rights and wrongs of nuclear energy, the nation's chief power authority has thrown down a gauntlet in advance of the debate.
The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) has named five nuclear power sites for the future and announced plans for a new reactor to be built on the Somerset coast.
Both moves represent a firm stance by the board, already under attack for its decision to site an American-type pressurized water reactor at Sizewell in Suffolk. The Sizewell decision will be the focus of a major public inquiry starting in January.
By announcing its future nuclear energy program, the board underlined its determination not to be deflected by the activities of conservation groups. By choosing Hinkley Point for a new reactor, it has also confronted conservationists on a related issue: the concentration of nuclear energy generation in particular areas.
Hinkley Point is already host to two nuclear reactors. The addition of a third will make the area around Hinkley Point the scene of the largest concentration of nuclear energy generation in Western Europe.
The CEGB announcement immediately sparked criticism from the Antinuclear Campaign, a protest group that is offering to help objectors mobilize protests.
Apart from Hinkley Point, the CEGB list of new sites includes Winfrith in Dorset, Dungeness in Kent, Druridge in Northumberland, and Sizewell, where a third nuclear power station will be built if the one at the center of next year's inquiry is approved.
The CEGB has, however, decided not to select a preferred reactor type until the inquiry is over. There have been strong suggestions that it wants to standardize, but the British advanced gas-cooled reactor is an alternative if the Sizewell inquiry goes against the CEGB.
In effect, the CEGB is pressing ahead on the assumption that nuclear power station expansion will continue, regardless of reactor types. It is government policy to build one reactor a year until the end of the century.
Protest groups, however, are against nuclear power stations in general, while reserving their particular ire for the controversial power system.