Lib Dem U-turn on nuclear energy sees Huhne announce eight new power stations

Eight new nuclear power stations are to be built in an effort to avert an energy crisis and hit targets for reducing carbon emissions, the Coalition Government announced yesterday.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy, had to overcome his party's opposition to nuclear power to approve the construction of the plants, which will begin operating between 2018 and 2025.

He also announced a drive to put up wind turbines around the coast, install more solar panels in homes, and invest in technology to limit polluting emissions from conventional coal-fired power stations.

But he dropped plans for a massive tidal barrage across the Severn Estuary, which would have provided five per cent of Britain's power, due to the estimated cost of more than £30bn and possible environmental damage.

The energy package was set out following Government warnings that the lights would go out by 2020 without urgent action to replace power plants nearing the end of their life. Mr Huhne's party had opposed a new generation of nuclear power stations because of their expense and worries over their safety.

The sites identified as suitable are alongside existing nuclear plants in Bradwell, Essex; Hartlepool; Heysham, Lancashire; Hinkley Point, Somerset; Oldbury, Gloucestershire; Sellafield, Cumbria; Sizewell, Suffolk; and Wylfa, Anglesey. Existing nuclear power stations will also be allowed to extend their life until the new plants are built.

Three potential sites were rejected. They were Dungeness in Kent – due to fears about the impact on wildlife – and Braystones and Kirksanton in Cumbria, because of their proximity to the Lake District.

Mr Huhne stressed that the nuclear industry would get "no levy, direct payment or market support" to develop the new plants or to meet the cost of dealing with radioactive waste. He said the coalition agreement had made it clear that nuclear power would be part of the country's future energy generation.

Britain is committed to cutting carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 – and wants the European Union to increase the target to 30 per cent – and by 80 per cent by 2050.