Blair says Britain needs nuclear power to secure future energy supplies

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday Britain must look at a new generation of nuclear power stations to guarantee its future energy supplies.

Blair reopened the debate over nuclear power in an opinion piece in The Times newspaper before the publication of a new government energy strategy report on Wednesday. The report is expected to also encourage wind and solar power.

"It is only right that we consider how nuclear power can help to underpin the security of our energy supply without increasing our reliance on fossil fuels," Blair wrote in The Times.

"We can meet our carbon dioxide emissions targets, but only if we are willing to think ahead and take tough decisions over new wind farms - and give serious consideration to nuclear power," Blair said.

Energy security poses a major challenge for Britain, Blair said, as it goes from producing 80 percent of its own energy to having to import almost all of its gas and more than half of its oil by 2020.

Britain will have to rely on supplies from less stable parts of the world and will be more vulnerable to energy price fluctuations as demand increases from emerging economies such as China and India, Blair said.

The government was forced to begin new consultations over its energy policy after Greenpeace obtained a legal victory earlier this year after complaining an energy review launched last year was seriously flawed. Greenpeace argued policies were needed to transform the way energy was consumed and delivered.

Trade and Industry Minister Alistair Darling said Britain must decide on an energy strategy now or risk having power supplies be disrupted on very hot or very cold days by the year 2017.

Environmentalists have criticized Blair for backing new nuclear plants despite safety issues and concerns about waste disposal, stressing that Britain lags behind other European nations in developing renewable energy sources - such as solar or tidal power.

The government said it wanted to build new nuclear stations to replace aging ones that are scheduled to be decommissioned, adding that any new plants would be built by private companies without government subsidies.

Britain's 23 nuclear power stations supply around 20 percent of the country's electricity. All but one is due to close by 2023. Darling has said fewer nuclear plants will be needed in the future because the new plants would be more efficient.