French contractor prepares to take on nuclear new-build work in UK after last week's government anouncement

French contractor Bouygues is gearing up to take on nuclear new-build work in the UK, a week after John Hutton, the secretary of state for business, announced an escalation in the government’s energy programme.

Ian Gunter, Bouygues’ business development director, confirmed speculation that the company was interested in the nuclear market. He said he was preparing a report on the British nuclear sector for Bouygues’ head office.

He said: “I’m writing a paper for our colleagues in France setting out the pros and cons and the possibilities in the UK.”

Hutton announced last week that he was setting up the Office of Nuclear Development, an interdepartmental unit intended to get nuclear reactors up and running “as soon as possible”.

The government wants at least 40% of Britain’s energy to come from the plants. At least 10 will be built, costing up to £3bn each.

This commitment to a nuclear programme has been welcomed by UK firms, and many are now forming alliances and addressing the skills deficits in the area.

Real progress lies in the hands of private investors, not
the government

Simon Harrison

Richard Coackley, managing director of consultant White Young Green Energy described the government’s move as “incredibly significant”. He said: “What is important is for firms to get some cross-governmental capabilities and it’s necessary to create a single focus. So this office is an important step.”

Simon Harrison, energy director at Mott MacDonald, said it was a “useful move” but added that real progress lay with private investors, not the government.

Mott has stepped up its nuclear capabilities in recent months by buying consultant Multi Design and signing an exclusive alliance with American nuclear specialist Excel Services. “We now feel we have complete capability for new-build,” said Harrison.

Costain also confirmed it was in talks with US nuclear services companies with a view to establishing an alliance.

Meanwhile, a new graduate programme in decommissioning at Lancaster university received £2.3m from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) this week.

White Young Green and the NDA have also been working on plans for a technical college in Westlake, Cumbria.