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Britain has "ambitious" nuclear plans

PARIS (Reuters) - Britain has ambitious plans for nuclear power expansion but it will not subsidise this development, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said on Tuesday.

A seagull flies past the old lighthouse next to Dungeness nuclear power station, near Lydd in southern England, January 9, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The government will let private utilities set up the country’s energy mix, Wicks also said in a press briefing at the British Embassy.

Asked how many nuclear reactors would be built in the country after the government gave the go-ahead last week to a new generation of nuclear power stations, Wicks said:

“We don’t have a figure in our mind, but I think we are ambitious for it for reasons of climate change and energy security.”

Wicks said he would not give a percentage on what the nuclear share of Britain’s energy mix would be.

“I can’t give you a percentage. I think it will be very significant... We basically want to take carbon out of electricity with a combination of renewables and nuclear.”

“Our objective as a government is not to say we’ll do x percent of electricity from this energy and x percent from that energy... What the mix will actually look like in terms of renewables and nuclear is largely for the market to set.”

Wicks was in Paris with David Clarke, the chief executive of the Energy Technologies Institute, a public-private body set up in December to boost the development of technologies to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear power has remained unchanged in Britain at around 16 percent of the global mix for the last 20 years, after the Chernobyl disaster curbed its growth.

It is now becoming more competitive amid surging oil and gas prices and buoyed by the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions to fight climate change.

Utilities such as Centrica, EDF of France, RWE and E.ON of Germany, as well as French state-controlled nuclear reactor maker Areva have all said they were keen to get involved in nuclear power plant projects.

But Wicks reaffirmed on Tuesday that the state would not subsidise these developments.

“The new reactors have to be built commercially and we made clear the cost of the decommissioning of these reactors will be paid fully by these companies.”

Wicks estimated that the first new-generation reactor could start production in 2018.

“In our mind, we have a view that once an application is made it could take four years for preparations and then maybe four years to build the plant,” he said.

“So the optimists would say, and the optimists are not necessarily foolish persons, that the first reactor could be up and running in 2018. We would certainly hope for 2020,” he said.

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