Jeremy Warner: Suez wants slice of UK nuclear

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The Independent Online

Outlook Blimey. Here's a Government policy that seems to be actually working. Ministers declared that they were keen to encourage competition in the construction of new nuclear power stations and that's precisely what they seem to be getting. News yesterday that GDF Suez is clubbing together with Iberdrola to bid for the sites owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority brings to three the number of consortia which have declared plans for new nuclear build in Britain.

Recent disruptions in the supply of Russian gas have underscored the case for energy security through the commissioning of new nuclear capacity. Sufficient numbers of players have now declared their hands to make it seem as if it will actually happen. Having bought British Energy, EDF is planning a number of new nuclear reactors, possibly in conjunction with Centrica. The German utilities RWE and E.ON have also teamed up to build new nukes.

Plummeting energy prices, together with the fast falling price of emission permits, has made the commercial case for new nuclear build less compelling than it was, but the investment plans are on exceptionally long lead times, and nobody believes the present depressed price of hydrocarbons is going to last for long. Emission targets, energy prices and energy security all work in nuclear's favour.

Still, there's many a slip. Unlike France, which last week gave the go-ahead for two new nuclear power stations, the planning consents are not yet in place, and, as with the expansion of airport capacity, the policy doesn't yet command universal political support. All the same, it's an encouraging start. And amazingly enough, it's got nothing to do with Peter Mandelson. Responsibility for nuclear now lies with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.