6 March 2008 – The British government yesterday signalled its willingness to allow an increasing proportion of electricity production from nuclear power generation. In an interview with the Financial Times the business secretary John Hutton said that he would be “very disappointed” if nuclear power’s share was not significantly above its present 19 per cent share of UK generation, over the next 10-15 years.
The government recently announced measures to encourage the next generation of nuclear power construction to replace the aging fleet of reactors, the majority of which are scheduled for decommissioning by 2023. It stated clearly that nuclear power production was an important element of the energy mix of the UK and promised measures to help the private sector pursue nuclear projects, provided it did not require a contribution from the public purse.
Hutton’s comments appear to go further by expressing a clear desire that the next generation of reactors produce more of the country’s electricity than the existing ones can deliver. He said he was hopeful that the first new plant could be operational by 2017. “If we can accelerate the timetable we should'” he said.
Hutton also refused to rule out the sale of some or all of the British government’s stake in British Energy, the owner and operator of the UK’s nuclear fleet. The government currently has a 39 per cent stake in British Energy and had previously said it would not sell down this stake. Hutton said that the government could sell its £2bn ($4bn) stake “in the next few years”.
According to Hutton, there is a queue of potential investors ready to take up the multi-million pound construction contracts, provided the government meets its commitment to “clear the deck” of regulatory hurdles.