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NZ: Expert warns nuclear power is on the cards

Nuclear power stations may be operating in New Zealand as soon as 2015 if coal continues to be shunned as a fuel source.

However, energy consultant Bryan Leyland says it is highly unlikely the South Island will be chosen as a site for nuclear generation.

He said the preferred option would be for a couple of 2000 megawatt (MW) stations sited somewhere a little north of Auckland that would enable generation to meet the population growth and increasing electricity demand in the region.

Debate about nuclear energy has been sparked by the decision last week of Environment Canterbury (ECan) to include nuclear power in a discussion about future power sources.

The country's largest power station is Genesis Energy's 1000MW thermal plant at Huntly. Meridian Energy's 585MW Manapouri station is the largest hydro station.

Leyland said there would be no need for the South Island to have nuclear generation.

"At the moment the south is pushing power all the way to Auckland. What this would do is free up the component of the DC (inter-island high-voltage direct current) link feeding Auckland for the South Island and Wellington."

Leyland said he was serious that nuclear power might be the only feasible long-term option if coal stayed out of favour because of concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and the Kyoto Protocol.

"If it turns out we are happy to burn coal, and I think we should be doing that, we have thousands of megawatts of that in the South Island."

In the mid to late 1960s, the National Party considered introducing nuclear power in New Zealand and looked seriously at two sites on either side of the Kaipara Harbour for 1000MW power stations. The plans were shelved with the discovery of the Kapuni and Maui natural gas fields.

Yesterday, ECan North Canterbury councillor Ross Little said reaction to the council's decision was casting a "bizarre light on us".

"There is an energy crisis coming and there are going to be a number of issues come up and I want to be informed," he said of his decision to vote in favour of the motion.

"There are people who don't want to burn coal. There are people who don't want hydro, so it is only proper that we inform ourselves.

"... I don't think you should have a closed mind."

He conceded the council had made an error in allowing reference to the nuclear energy debate to remain within the motion.

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