Rolls-Royce and Balfour Beatty have signed up with Areva, the French nuclear reactor maker, to create an industry bloc ready to exploit the opportunities of the UK's nuclear renaissance.
The partnership will create up to 15,000 long-term manufacturing and construction jobs as the three companies work together to develop the skills and supply chain needed to build Areva's next-generation EPR nuclear reactors, the first of which could start construction in 2013.
Mike O'Brien, the Energy minister, said yesterday: "This is the welcome face of low carbon energy, which we'll see more and more over the coming decades, opening up enormous potential for UK plc at home and globally."
The French group's technology is being evaluated by the Health and Safety Executive – as is its main rival technology, the Westinghouse AP1000 – and is not expected to receive accreditation for the UK market until 2011.
But the EPR design already has the support of EDF, which is in the process of buying British Energy, the UK's main nuclear group, and has said that it will build one new nuclear station by 2017 and four by 2025. Earlier this year, E.ON also announced plans for at least two EPRs.
Civil nuclear power is a major growth industry, in both the UK and across the world. The global industry, currently worth around £30bn annually, is expected to shoot up to £50bn in 15 years.
In the UK, the scale of the Government's plans for nuclear will breathe new life into an almost-extinct industry sector. Although the next-generation reactor design has not yet been signed off, and no sites for new power stations have been agreed, it is vital to get ready now, the companies involved in the Areva deal said yesterday.
Andrew McNaughton, the chief operating officer of Balfour Beatty, said: "What we are doing is investing the skills and experience of these organisations to develop an industrial landscape – establishing where the supply chain is going to come from, and where the resources are going to come from – so we are ready for nuclear new build when it starts."
Luc Oursel, chief executive of Areva NP, said: "There is a lot of work to prepare operations on the supply side – to help make the investment, train the people and clarify the processes – and it is better to do this now than when the project is launched."