The prime minister tells Labour conference that Britain needs the most radical overhaul of energy policies since the war

Prime minister Tony Blair confirmed his commitment to a new generation of nuclear power stations at the Labour party conference, where the future of energy supply was a focus of debate throughout the week.

In his final speech to the annual conference as leader Blair told delegates that without a nuclear new-build programme Britain would face an “energy crisis”. Saying that the country needed the “most radical overhaul of energy policy since the war”, he also pledged to treble government investment in other “clean power” technologies.

Blair said: “Without nuclear power, we are going to face an energy crisis, and we can’t let that happen.”

He also criticised the Conservatives’ doubts over nuclear energy, saying: “We need to decide now, or in 15 years’ time we’ll be importing expensive fossil fuels.”

However, at a fringe meeting of the Nuclear Industry Association, Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, emphasised that the government was not prepared to offer incentives to build the stations. He said: “There will be no special deals, no special prices for nuclear power. We’re not subsidising this. The market decides how much we will build, but if we could replace existing provision in the short to medium term that would be sensible.”

Wicks said that the government would work with the construction and energy sectors to ensure that a skills crisis did not threaten the programme, and said women in particular would be encouraged to join the sectors to make up the shortfall.

He said: “We take the point about skills. There is an issue in the energy sector and related sectors like construction.”

Wicks also hinted that the government was still considering the sale of British Nuclear Group, its nuclear decommissioning arm, as a single entity, despite its rejection of a bid from US engineer Fluor.

Wicks said: “The sell-off is at a critical stage so I can’t really comment on its nature, but all I can say is that I hear your voices [on the benefits of a one-off sale].”

Both Blair and Wicks emphasised the government’s commitment to other forms of renewable technology, confirming a series of measures designed to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. These include increasing the obligation on businesses to reduce emissions, and raising the energy efficiency of new homes (see box below).

Blair also defended the government’s building programmes in the education and health sectors, and pointed to Manchester, where the conference was being held, as an example of its record on regeneration.