Red tape threatens GE Hitachi's nuclear bid

The US-Japanese joint venture bidding to build nuclear power plants in the UK could struggle to rush its reactor designs through Britain's notoriously lengthy licensing process.

GE Hitachi is keen to introduce its own boiling water-based reactor for its bid for the Horizon nuclear project, which will invest £15bn in plants in Anglesey and Gloucestershire.

The nuclear new-build policy was thrown into doubt three months ago when the German utilities E.on and RWE withdrew from the programme, but three consortia have since bid to take over. Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and France's Areva have advantages over GE Hitachi because their own reactors are going through the UK's Generic Design Assessment for approval. A Whitehall source said: "GE Hitachi has built a lot [of reactors and] think they could get through the GDA faster and then build faster. That may not be easy – they don't have a UK supply chain, so it won't be that fast."

It is rumoured that Westinghouse has a stronger financing plan in place than Areva, making it a slight favourite to snap up Horizon.

The programme faces further problems should Centrica decide to pull out of the programme. The British energy giant will decide later this year whether to commit to new nuclear plants, though EDF has drawn up contingency plans if it is left to push ahead on its own. Westinghouse and Areva had previously planned to provide designs only for the three consortia that had agreed to build Britain's next wave of nuclear power stations, the other two being the EDF/Centrica and Iberdrola/GDF Suez combinations.