October 9, 2013 / 12:24 PM / 7 years ago

UK says new nuclear plants not at threat after EU state aid vote

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Commission’s decision to drop a reference to subsidies for nuclear power from its guidelines on state aid for energy production would not block Britain’s nuclear expansion plans, the British government said on Wednesday.

Britain has an ambitious target to build nuclear power plants by the middle of the next decade and wants to guarantee a minimum power price for new plants, a policy that would require state aid approval from the European Commission.

European Commissioners decided on Tuesday to exclude a reference to nuclear power in an update to energy-specific guidelines for state aid which are expected to be officially published next month.

The exclusion comes weeks after a leak of a guideline draft raised expectations the Commission was preparing to sanction public support for nuclear power, provoking protests especially in the biggest EU economy Germany.

“The Commission’s draft guidelines have not been published yet. It is already possible to seek approval for aid for new nuclear, whether this is explicitly provided for in the new guidelines or not,” said a spokeswoman for Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Current guidelines do not explicitly exclude nuclear power from receiving state aid, but such a request has never been made, meaning a British case would test the limits.

Europe’s competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said on Wednesday his department had had some conversations with the UK authorities on the subject.

“We have been told that in the next couple of months they will be producing a programme for investment (in nuclear),” he told reporters in Brussels.

DECC declined to comment on the timescale.

French utility EDF, which owns most of Britain’s operating nuclear plants, wants to build the country’s first new nuclear station in decades at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The company is in discussions with the government about fixing a minimum price for power from the new plant. EDF declined comment on the Commission’s decision to exclude nuclear power from the new state aid guidelines.

Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels; Editing by David Holmes

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