Finalised sale clears path for UK nuclear construction programme

French firm EDF has completed its £12.5bn purchase of nuclear operator British Energy (BE), setting the wheels in motion for construction of new plants in the UK.

The energy giant yesterday said that its bid for BE was wholly unconditional, after revealing it controls more than 96% of the company's shares.

The sale, which was given clearance by the EU last month, gives EDF control of eight of the country's 10 operational nuclear sites, thought to be the best spots for building new reactors.

UK energy minister Ed Miliband welcomed the news as “an important step on the path to new nuclear power” but reiterated plans to maintain competition in the sector.

He said: “In addition to the important investment made by EDF, our ambition is to have more than one firm building and operating nuclear power stations in the UK.

“There are strong signals of interest in this from the power industry and we will continue to work with stakeholders to bring about the conditions that can make that possible.”

EDF plans to build four new reactors in the UK, with the first up and running by 2017. But chief executive Pierre Gadonneix said that the regulatory environment would have to be loosened in order to achieve this.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he said: “Clearly, the British government and many stakeholders are aware of the huge need for nuclear development as soon as possible. If we want to meet the 2017 challenge for the first EPR we must find ways to make the process as fluent as possible… That will take time and that will cost.”

UK business secretary Peter Mandelson said: “Completion of this takeover represents not only a £12.5bn investment in the UK by EDF but, in opening the way for new nuclear build, should provide many billions of pounds more opportunity for the UK supply chain.”