Nuclear power stations 'to open from 2018'

Britain is on track to have new nuclear power stations up and running within eight years, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne insisted today.

Mr Huhne said a number of potential sites for the stations had been identified - generally close to existing nuclear energy installations - and that power should be on stream by 2018.

He reiterated that the Government would not subsidise the new nuclear power stations but said investors had indicated they were ready to press ahead thanks to rising gas, oil and carbon prices.

"We are on course to make sure that the first new nuclear power station opens on time in 2018," Mr Huhne told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"There are a number of sites that have been identified around the country and those are generally on sites where we have previously had, for example, nuclear power stations and where the local people are very keen that there should be new nuclear build.

"What we have to do - we have eight years now before I hope that the first one will come making a contribution to the grid - and we have to get through all of the prior arrangements, like, for example, the national planning statements, like making sure that investors have got their applications formally in and approved, and then of course building can commence."

Mr Huhne said it was "clear" that MPs would vote in favour of new nuclear power stations providing there was no public subsidy involved.

Defending the position, he said: "I don't think you can determine whether a government is serious about energy policy merely in terms of whether it is prepared to write very large cheques.

"It has always been clear that our next generation of electricity power stations are going to be built by private investors with a framework put in place."

That framework included a "very clear commitment" for a carbon price floor, Mr Huhne said, as part of an incentives system to encourage investment.

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who has been portrayed as an opponent of nuclear power in the past, also said his views had been "much misunderstood".

He had merely pointed out that there had been no private investment since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, Mr Huhne said, adding: "I believe, in talking to investors now, that it's clear, because of what's happening on the oil and gas price and because of what's happening on the carbon price, that there will be investment in new nuclear and that will be an important part of our energy mix - along, of course, with coal and gas, as long as there is carbon capture and storage, and along with renewables."

And he added: "We have absolutely no intention of the lights going out on my watch, I can assure you, and that's going to be a mix of different technologies precisely because of the uncertainties which exist in the future about which are likely to be most effective."

Nuclear energy split the Conservative and Liberal Democrat partners when the Government was formed in May.

Under the terms of the coalition agreement, Lib Dem MPs can abstain in Commons votes on nuclear power but cannot bring the Government down over it in a confidence motion.

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