UK lights will stay on without new nuclear: Huhne

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s lights will stay on even without new nuclear power plants replacing the aging reactors which are set to close in the next few years, energy secretary Chris Huhne said on Thursday.

Reiterating that the government will not block new nuclear builds, Huhne said that nuclear’s contribution to power generation could fall below the current 20 percent level with no risk of an energy gap if there was sufficient investment in other sources.

“If we set the right framework for low carbon generation, then the market will deliver enough with the right mix. If that includes nuclear, that’s envisaged in the coalition agreement, then that will be up to investors,” Huhne added at the sidelines of the UK Energy Summit conference.

Earlier in the conference, he said that gas-fired power plants could also be constructed if necessary to prevent any shortages.

“In extremis, if there is a supply problem, we can put up a gas generation plant in 18 months,” he said.

Huhne again said that new nuclear plants would receive no government money, but would not be blocked under a coalition government of pro-nuclear Conservatives and anti-nuclear Lib Dems.

“The coalition agreement is clear that new nuclear can and will go ahead, but only so long as there is no public subsidy, a pledge robustly guaranteed by the state of the public finances,” he said.

Britain is set to lose significant electricity generation capacity over the coming decades as old coal and nuclear plants are set to close, causing some to warn of an energy gap before 2020 with new renewables sources such as wind unable to compensate.

Editing by Keiron Henderson