British Energy set for new nuclear plants

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The Independent Online

Bill Coley, the chief exec-utive of British Energy, expects to announce by the end of the year the industrial partners with whom he will bid to build two of the UK's next generation of nuclear power plants.

The head of the country's largest electricity provider gave his bullish outlook on the same day that investors again punished the company for its inability to provide any clarity on when four of its oft-troubled nuclear reactors – shut down in recent weeks due to corrosion on the boilers – will come back on line. "We have been in discussion with more than 10 entities about possible partnerships, and we'll be able to give an indication of the nature of one, possibly two, by next month," he said.

The company reported £511m in earnings before expenses for the first six months of the year, broadly hitting analyst estimates. But Mr Coley warned that the rest of the year's numbers will be hindered by the shutdown of the four reactors at its Heysham 1 and Hartlepool sites. Analysts, who have estimated that the reactors will be out of commission for up to five months, were given no new information about how long the shutdowns will last.

"We are very early into this. We are in the process of inspections. We are going to do several thousand radio-graphs of the BCUs [boiler closure units] on each of the reactors. Our people are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week on this, but it is still too early to tell how long it will be," Mr Coley said. Investors sent the company's shares down a further 2.4 per cent, bringing the total loss since the problems at Heysham were first revealed to 12.7 per cent.

The reactors, built more than three decades ago using UK-unique designs, have a history of problems. Mr Coley said: "There is not a pound sterling that we could have invested in the last five to 10 years that will have made any difference with the issues we are dealing with right now."

In the Queen's Speech last week, Gordon Brown unveiled Bills to reduce carbon emissions, streamline planning for infrastructure projects and to release new funds for nuclear decommissioning and clean-up. These were widely interpreted as opening the door for a next generation of nuc-lear reactors. The Government is expected to publish its nuclear policy soon after a consultation period.