A ROW was raging last night over future energy generation as the Government came under attack after launching a five-month consultation on the role of new nuclear power stations.

Opposition parties, environmental campaigners and pressure groups criticised ministers for peddling a "failed policy".

Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said it was more likely than not that new nuclear power stations would be built on the sites that already have similar plants.

But Greenpeace said an official report published after a Freedom of Information Act request by the group showed that sites in the South, including Hinkley, Sizewell, Dungeness and Bradwell, were considered the most suitable places for new reactors.

Director John Sauven said: "Scientists say the speed at which climate change is happening means that some of the sites suggested for new nuclear power stations are threatened by rising sea levels and storm surges.

"Meanwhile, political developments in Scotland have ruled out other sites. You have to question where the Government thinks it's going to build these things.

"Government claims about Russia and the lights going out have the whiff of a dodgy dossier. They are whipping up fear to push a policy that is patently dishonest."

The Government also came under fire over plans for a £14bn barrage across the Severn that would harness the tidal energy of the estuary, which Mr Darling said he was very interested in promoting.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warned that the ten-mile barrage would cause "untold damage" to the environment.

Mr Darling said it was the Government's preliminary view that it was in the public interest to give private energy firms the option of investing in new nuclear building projects.

A 20-week public consultation started yesterday will run until October 10.

Mr Darling told MPs that the amount of electricity from renewable energy would triple to 15 per cent by 2015, as he published the Energy White Paper.

He said the Government had three aims - to reduce the amount of energy consumed in this country, to increase the amount of power generated by renewables and to ensure an energy mix.

He said: "I firmly believe that the mix we have will serve us well in the future. My firm view is that nuclear does need to be part of that - to exclude it as an option makes no sense at all."