Britain a step closer to building first new nuclear reactor in 20 years as £200m worth of construction work beckons

The design of Britain’s first new nuclear reactor for 20 years is due to get initial approval later this week, the head of the nuclear regulator has revealed.

Mike Weightman, chief inspector of nuclear installations, told a central London conference of nuclear industry suppliers this morning: “We expect to issue a generic design approval certificate this week.”

The approval for the EPR [European Pressurised Reactor] design takes energy firm EDF one step closer to being able to start work on its planned plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. However, it does also need to pass local planning stipulations and further site specific assessments before getting the final go ahead.

Today EDF announced that it will award around £200m of supply chain contracts for construction work at the plant and associated works to roads and accommodation for staff. The figure does however include a £100m preparatory works contract on which a joint venture between Kier and BAM has been confirmed as preferred bidder.

The news comes as French nuclear giant AREVA, which designed the Hinkley plant and is entering the first stage of manufacturing components for it, announced losses of up to €1.6bn and suspended expansion work on four other plants worldwide.

The company said the market for nuclear power had run into difficulty since the Fukushima power plant disaster caused by a tsunami in Japan.

Alain-Pierre Raynaud, chief executive of AREVA UK, said he could not give guarantees that the financial situation the company found itself in would not affect its ability to continue its role in the UK project. However, he added: “It you take the last two plants we did in China, we are on time and on budget and we know how to do that now. The lessons [of the past EPR plants] have been learned.”