Energy chief ousted as No 10 eases in more nuclear-friendly face

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The government official in charge of energy policy is being ousted on the eve of the country's most wide-ranging energy review for decades.

Sir Brian Bender, the newly appointed permanent secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, is removing Joan McNaughton from her post as director-general for energy early next year. She has held the post since 2002.

William Rickett, a former director-general for transport strategy, is being strongly tipped to succeed Ms McNaughton, who oversaw the Government's last energy review in 2003. The review favoured renewable energy, such as wind power, over nuclear. Mr Rickett has been advising No 10 more recently, and is thought to be more amenable to nuclear.

Ms McNaughton, who is generally well respected within the energy industry, has been asked to stay on until the summer to advise the Government on international energy issues. It is understood that she may be paying the price for failing to get a better deal when she was leading negotiations with the US on behalf of the state-owned nuclear group BNFL, over a fixed clean-up contract that went way over budget. After months of negotiations, BNFL agreed to write off around $1bn (£570m) in losses from the clean-up contract earlier this year.

A spokeswoman for the DTI confirmed that Ms McNaughton would be replaced early next year, but denied this was because the Government was unhappy with her work. It was normal, the spokeswoman said, for director-generals to move to different departments after four years. She added that the Government's preparations for the energy review to be launched early next year would not be disrupted.

Separately, trade body the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) last week told the Government that it would take as little as 10-11 years to gain planning consent and to build a new fleet of nuclear reactors.