Consultant claims delays in going ahead with atomic plants could lead firms to invest in coal

Energy companies are likely to invest in fossil fuel plants unless the government reaches a clear position on nuclear power, a leading energy consultant has warned.

Parsons Brinckerhoff ratcheted up the pressure on Gordon Brown to give the green light to nuclear new-build in a response to the government’s consultation on the issue. It said even a short delay could have “disastrous” results, by creating dependency on gas from politically unstable states.

The report comes in a week when a series of leaked govenment documents have cast doubt over the likelihood of a nuclear programme starting next year. Alistair Smith, Parsons’ nuclear services director, said: “The government must make a decision, step aside and allow the industry to build nuclear plants.” He said further delay would force firms to invest in higher carbon solutions as nuclear would be seen as “high-risk”.

The warning comes as Amec announced it had formed an alliance with French companies EDF and Areva in anticipation of reactors being commissioned in the UK. This makes Amec the first British company to team up with the utility firms vying for work.

But the government has signalled that it has not yet abandoned fossil fuels. It said it might increase coal production in an Energy Markets Outlook report published on Tuesday.

Leaked papers have indicated that ministers want to lower the target for energy from renewable sources, now set at 20% by 2020. It is thought that Brown is being urged to work with governments sceptical about climate change to persuade Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and others to set lower renewable targets. There is also concern about how to deal with nuclear waste.