Prominent environmentalists in the United Kingdom are at loggerheads over whether Britain should pursue new nuclear power plants, in a clash that has revealed sharply divergent approaches to energy and climate change.

Five leading environmentalists said abandoning plans for nuclear power would be a "serious environmental mistake," according to a letter submitted to Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday.

mark-lynas.jpg"The gravity of the climate crisis necessitates a re-examination of deeply-held objections still shared by many in the green movement towards nuclear power, including, until recently some in our own number," wrote a group of top environmental writers and activists including Mark Lynas, George Monbiot, former Greenpeace head Stephen Tindale, Fred Pearce, and Michael Hanlon.

The five took issue with a letter to Cameron from four former directors of Friends of the Earth who said pursuing nuclear power was too expensive and risky, and would put the UK's "energy future in the hands of the French." Instead, the former directors argued, Britain should follow the examples of Japan and Germany who decided to shutter their nuclear plants after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

Both groups support greater investment in clean energy technology.

But, the pro-nuclear environmentalists argue, "nuclear remains the only viable large-scale source of low-carbon baseload power available to energy consumers in the UK today." They contend that the "most urgent priority," for the environment and public health, should be to phase out coal.

Japan and Germany have already begun to increase their dependence on fossil fuels, with Germany initiating plans for more coal and natural gas power plants and Japan importing soaring amounts of oil and gas.

Many of the group -- in particular Lynas and Monbiot -- have riled greens for switching their views on nuclear power, with Monbiot becoming a leading voice for pro-nuclear environmentalists in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

"Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small," Monbiot wrote last year.

A panel of American radiation experts this month estimated the increased risk of cancer for exposed workers at 0.002 percent, while preliminary United Nations analyses show that no member of the Japanese public was exposed to a dangerous dose.