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Combatants thrown together

The brief, intense dispute over the independence of Scottish Nuclear is over. Now the men who were on opposite sides of the argument will have to sit down together to map out the future of the British nuclear power industry.

The industry's core business will continue to be nuclear but not exclusively so, nor exclusively British. In an interview last week, Robin Jeffrey, chief executive of Scottish Nuclear, made it clear he saw his company moving into other energy technologies after privatisation.

Nuclear Electric's management has already signed a technology-exchange deal with an as yet unnamed European nuclear utility and acknowledges that it has been looking to invest in nuclear projects overseas and in non-nuclear technologies.

The one item that will not feature is a quick start to the construction of Sizewell C, the twin-reactor successor to Britain's first pressurised water reactor. Since the C station is needed to make up for the first- generation Magnox reactors, which will come off line over the next five to 10 years, one consequence will be a decline in Britain's nuclear capacity.

By retaining the older Magnox reactors in a publicly owned company and creating a holding company, presumably based in Edinburgh as a sop to Scottish sentiment, the Government has created four companies where before there were two, so there will be enough boardroom seats for even the largest of egos. A good proportion of the senior executives of the holding company will be Scots.

Dr Jeffrey and James Hann, the chairman, fought a spirited campaign to avert what many in Scotland saw as a takeover by a predatory southern competitor. Although English, Mr Hann is virtually an honorary Scot. An outsider to the nuclear industry, he was brought in by the Scottish Office after the first failure of nuclear privatisation to inject new thinking. He has succeeded beyond all expectations.

But Mr Hann has recently taken on the chairmanship of Hickson International, a Yorkshire chemical company, so he may not be available to serve on the new holding company's board.

Dr Jeffrey's prospects may suffer from the opposite problem of being too heavily identified with Scottish Nuclear.

John Collier and Bob Hawley, chairman and chief executive of Nuclear Electric, are also energy industry insiders. Mr Collier transferred to Nuclear Electric in 1990 from the UK Atomic Energy Authority, bringing an engineer's pragmatism to a company that had emerged severely battered from the old state-owned CEGB.

Dr Hawley, however, made his career in the private sector with the manufacturers of generation plant, CA Parsons. He has been seen as the chief proponent of merging the two companies, and would have to overcome Scottish suspicions if he were named to the board of the new holding company.