Government warned that competitors may snap up vital parts if it spends any longer ‘dithering’

The government may lose its place in the queue for nuclear components if it spends another year “dithering”, experts have warned.

Alistair Smith, director of nuclear services at US engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff, said the number of countries waiting for reactors from suppliers such as Areva and Westinghouse was growing rapidly.

He said: “Other countries are getting ahead of the UK. The Middle East wants to build and South Africa is on the verge of ordering 10 stations. The longer the UK dithers, the further back in the queue it gets.”

Prime minister Gordon Brown called for a “renaissance of nuclear power” on Sunday, and said he wanted a minimum of eight plants in the next 15 years.

One cause of delay is that the government has not yet sold its 35% stake in nuclear power company British Energy. An offer made by French rival EDF was rejected by shareholders in June.

The longer the UK dithers, the further back in the queue it gets

Alastair Smith, Parsons

British Energy owns eight of the UK’s 10 nuclear sites, which are where the new plants are expected to be built. Smith said: “Those sites are critical. Once we know who owns the company, we know who to negotiate with.”

Paul Campbell, nuclear director at Costain, welcomed Brown’s announcement. He said: “It’s encouraging and needed. There is big investment to come from some companies and they need assurance it’s going to go ahead.”

Parsons is involved in decommissioning projects across the UK and has been tipped as a strong contender for work on new-build nuclear plants.

• Amec was appointed last week to the £1.3bn clean-up contract at the Sellafield reprocessing plant as part of a consortium including Areva and the Washington Group.