Energy giant will 'maximise' opportunities for British firms that meet exacting safety and quality standards

French energy giant EDF has called on suppliers to ramp up their nuclear capability as it prepares to tender the main civil engineering contracts for its first new UK plant early next year.

Speaking at an industry engagement day yesterday, chief executive of EDF's UK arm Vincent de Rivaz urged firms ensure their service met with exacting safety standards and to work to plug the looming skills gap.

He said: “What we want to talk to you about, above all, is safety and quality assurance. Our commitment to them is absolute. And we can only work with partners whose commitment to them is absolute.”

Nuclear plant
EDF plans to build four nuclear plants in the UK by 2025, beginning construction in 2013

Outlining procurement strategies for its four proposed UK reactors, EDF said it was determined to “maximise” opportunities for the British supply chain.

Construction of the first plant, expected to be at Hinkley Point in Somerset, is due to begin in 2013. Packages to be let this year include earthworks and a marine off-loading facility, while the first three months of next year will see the main civil works and tunnelling contracts put out to tender. EDF will act as architect/engineer with support from Amec.

Tenders for Hinkley and EDF's next planned plant in France, Penly 3, will be run together and some bids automatically entered for both.

De Rivaz said: “The journey we will make together - through construction, operation, maintenance and finally decommissioning - will be a long one. The opportunities for your businesses, for employment, for the experience that the UK can sell in a growing worldwide marketplace, are huge.”

New energy minister Lord Hunt echoed these sentiments and urged the industry to take advantage of global civil nuclear opportunities worth £80bn a year by 2023. But he called on the industry not to be “complacent”. He said: “This is a global marketplace and competition is clearly going to increase around the world. Companies based in the UK have to show they can deliver.”

EDF plans to build four nuclear plants in the UK by 2025, with the first up and running by the end of 2017.

However, de Rivaz refrained from giving a cast iron guarantee that the firm's programme would go ahead. He said: “We will not press ahead regardless, but if the conditions are right and we get all the necessary consents, EDF will be doing it and we plan to do it first.”