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Big utilities buy into Britain's nuclear future

LONDON (Reuters) - Three of Europe’s biggest utilities bought land to build nuclear power plants in England and Wales on Wednesday, in a sale that generated 387 million pounds to retire old reactors the government wants replaced.

France's EDF EDF.PA bought a plot next to an old reactor at Bradwell near London, which it might sell on, and a joint venture between Germany's E.ON EONGn.DE and RWE RWEG.DE bought land at Wylfa in Wales and Oldbury in south-west England, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said on Wednesday.

“The sale of these three sites is worth up to 387 million pounds which the NDA will use to help fund the cost of decommissioning,” Richard Waite, acting chief executive of the government body responsible for managing Britain’s old nuclear installations, said.

The government wants private companies to build enough new plants to replace the country’s old state-built reactors, most of which will be shut over the next 10 years, to help limit carbon emissions and cut reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Europe’s biggest utilities are lining up to do it, paying hundreds of millions for some well-placed farmland.

EDF, the world’s biggest nuclear power generator, bought Britain’s biggest nuclear generator British Energy earlier this year, so it could build new plants on some of its land.

The plots sold by the NDA after a 30-day online auction, including a piece of land EDF bought at Wylfa before it bought British Energy, are just three of 11 places that could be used.

Industry sources said the 178 hectare (438 acre) site at Wylfa in north Wales sold for over 200 million pounds, compared with 160 million EDF paid for the 200 hectare site at Bradwell, because the Welsh site already has the necessary and potentially costly grid connections in place.

DELIGHTED

“I’m delighted the joint venture has begun so strongly with the successful acquisition of two of the best available sites for nuclear development,” Andrew Duff, chief executive of RWE’s UK arm, said.

Spain's Iberdrola IBE.MC, France's GDF Suez GSZ.PA and Scottish & Southern Energy SSE.L pulled out of the NDA auction on Wednesday but said they were still keen to build reactors at other sites being considered by the government.

EDF wants to build a total of four new European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) at Sizewell in Essex and Hinkley Point in south-west England, with the first expected to begin generating low-carbon power by 2018.

EDF already owned some land at Bradwell through its purchase of British Energy before buying more at the auction.

It will sell the land at Bradwell in Essex if its projects at the nearby Sizewell facility and Hinkley Point progress well, the company said.

“EDF Energy is also committed to offer land at either Heysham or Dungeness to potential new build developers,” it said in a statement.

E.ON, RWE and the Iberdrola-led consortium are potential buyers of those sites, with the German duo planning to build at least 6,000 megawatts of new nuclear capacity in Britain.

“It is absolutely vital that we as a country build new nuclear power stations to generate alongside cleaner fossil fuels and renewables to ensure security of supply,” Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK, said.

“We are clearly starting to see the roadmap that will take the UK to our low carbon future take shape but it is also clear that much remains to be done.”

Additional reporting by Muriel Boselli and Martin Roberts; editing by James Jukwey and Sue Thomas

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