Move comes as French energy company says it may let some Hinkley contracts early

The project manager of the Shard, Bernard Ainsworth, is to advise EDF on the construction of its fleet of nuclear power stations, as the French energy giant ramps up its procurement plans.

EDF confirmed that Ainsworth, who has already cut back his hours working on the £425m tower, will take a non-executive directorship on the board of its nuclear new build project.

The move comes as EDF moves on its plans for the £4.5bn first reactor in Hinkley, Somerset, after energy minister Charles Hendry confirmed this week that the government would publish a list of confirmed nuclear new build sites before the summer.

EDF is negotiating with contractor consortiums over the £1bn main civils job on the site. Alan Cumming, its director of procurement for new nuclear, said the firm was examining whether parts of the job could be let early next year.

EDF is unlikely to be able to let the main contract until planning permission is given towards the end of 2012, but Cumming said contracts to train the future workforce, build batching plants and some detailed engineering design work might be let early.

He said: “There’s strong likelihood we’ll put an advance contract in place, to start this [supply chain] engagement. We don’t want to spend big money until we’re certain the planning’s in place. [But] there’s a huge amount to be getting on with.”

He declined to comment on rumours that the joint ventures involving Skanska and Carillion are no longer bidding for the job, leaving just Balfour Beatty with Vinci; Costain with Sir Robert McAlpine; and Laing O’Rourke with Bouygues in the running.

The progress of the UK nuclear programme is despite continued uncertainty over this form of power, following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. This week Italy became the latest country to abandon nuclear power, following Germany’s decision in May.

The International Atomic Energy Authority has organised a meeting of ministers from countries with existing or planned stations next week in Vienna, to provide a consistent global approach.

Analysis by EC Harris revealed that following Fukushima nuclear power station construction costs could increase by up to 15%, as regulators raise safety standards, with the biggest cost increases in seismically active areas.

Paul Stapleton, head of energy at the firm, said: “These changes have potentially serious design implications which change the business case.”

Ainsworth will remain project managing director of London Bridge Quarter, the development vehicle building the Shard.

A source close to Ainsworth said: “His role on the Shard has been designed to accommodate this sort of additional workload.”