UK pushes on with nuclear power plans

A view of Dungeness nuclear power station, near Lydd in southern England, January 9, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - Companies hoping to build new nuclear power plants in the UK must show that the benefits of using their reactors outweigh the potential health risks, the government said on Monday.

While nuclear regulators study the suitability of the four designs put forward for the next generation of nuclear power plants the government wants to be built in Britain, the companies behind them must now submit their proposals for a parallel “Justification Decision.”

The additional vetting process, which is expected to take about 18 months, is also needed to satisfy the European Commission that the disposal of radioactive waste will not contaminate other member states.

“The Justification Decision is the first major regulatory stage for new nuclear reactors, and an important step towards the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK,” John Hutton, business secretary, said in a statement, repeating the government’s desire to ensure nuclear power has a future in Britain.

“New nuclear power has the potential to help tackle climate change and secure future energy supplies as part of the energy mix. Momentum is building and it is important this is maintained by taking the necessary steps to reduce the regulatory and planning risks facing investors.”

The government wants energy companies to build a new generation of nuclear power plants to replace the existing fleet of atomic reactors, most of which will be closed over the next decade.

Designs have been submitted by EDF and Areva of France for their European Pressurised Reactor, Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor, General Electric-Hitachi’s ESBWR and Atomic Energy of Canada’s ACR1000.

Reporting by Daniel Fineren, editing by Alex Lawler