Fast-track nuclear, says UK business secretary

06 March 2008

The UK needs to build new nuclear power stations as fast as possible and the government is working for legislative and regulatory change in order to achieve this, according to UK business secretary John Hutton.

Speaking on the day that the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA) began the process of making land near existing nuclear sites available on the open market, Hutton made it clear that the government's priority is to maintain the necessary momentum to ensure that the country's first new nuclear power station since 1994 could be up and running within a decade. "We haven't got time to play with - every day counts," Hutton said in an interview with the Financial Times, adding "if we can accelerate the timescale, we should."

The UK policy recognizes the need for nuclear to help the UK meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets - and nine of the country's ten operating nuclear power stations due to close by 2023. Hutton also highlighted logistical concerns as another driver, with a resurgence of nuclear projects around the world and a limited number of companies with the expertise to build them. "I want the UK to be at the top of the queue, not bottom in the list, for potential investment in nuclear," he said.

NDA gauging interest

The NDA announcement calling for parties to register their interest in its sites comes in the wake of the UK government's low carbon energy policy, published in January. Interested parties have now been given until 3 April to state which assets they are interested in. The NDA will use the responses to gauge the level of interest in its land, which includes two operational nuclear power plants and a further 17 power plant and other fuel cycle sites in decommissioning. The process does not replace the outcome of Government's Strategic Siting Assessment and any subsequent grant of development consent for new nuclear power plants. Although some of the sites are in Scotland, the devolved Scottish government has already made clear its opposition to nuclear new build there.

British Energy, which controls all of the other likely sites for new nuclear power plants in UK, has said that all of the sites would be suitable for the construction of new nuclear power units. It has made transmission connection agreements with National Grid for several of them, allowing for a range of possible reactor types to be in place from 2016 onwards.