Nuclear body urges government not to delay new plants

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government could risk the revival of the country’s nuclear power industry if it allows delays in the construction of new plants to deter investors, the head of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association said on Thursday.

Police patrol outside Sizewell B power station, in Suffolk, May 22, 2007. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

Ministers need to ensure they keep up momentum in introducing changes to planning laws designed to cut the time needed to approve new power stations, Keith Parker, the association’s chief executive, said.

Delays like the 14 years needed to build the UK’s last new reactor, Sizewell B in Suffolk, which was caught in a planning wrangle for six years, could reduce private sector confidence in British projects and send contractors overseas, he said.

“If you’re looking for private sector companies to invest, they’re not going to do it with that degree of uncertainty,” Parker told Reuters in an interview at the World Nuclear Association’s Annual Symposium.

The industry, long dogged by lack of public and political support, is reviving due to concerns about global warming and the security of gas and oil supplies, Parker said.

“Using the word renaissance is not overstating the situation,” he said. “It’s a re-birth of an industry which did not look like it had a fantastic future.

“Public acceptance and (lack of) political will have been issues, but that’s been one of the changes in recent years. The government has come round to seeing nuclear as one of the solutions to energy security and climate change problems.”

The British government has backed the construction of new nuclear power stations to replace the country’s ageing fleet.

Nuclear power station owner British Energy is in talks about a potential merger with state-owned French power group EDF. Ministers hope the proposed tie-up could result in the combined group taking a key role in building new plants.

The government hopes to introduce changes to planning legislation and other licensing and climate change-related measures by 2012-2013, Parker said.

“That seems to us to be a realistic timeframe to get the necessary approvals and consents,” he said. “During that five years, we would expect that companies would identify specific projects.”

The industry accepts the government’s decision not to subsidise construction of the new reactors, Parker said.

Editing by Anthony Barker