Banks explore ways to fund a new-build power station programme as ministers prepare for autumn debate

Nuclear power experts are set to inform the government that the construction industry has the capacity to deliver a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The move comes as it has emerged that several leading banks are exploring ways to deliver the investment needed should the government press ahead with a nuclear building plan.

Ministers are currently split over whether to pursue the nuclear power option and are expected to scrutinise the arguments for and against this autumn.

Following consultation with 18 members of his working group, Bill Bryce, the chairman of the new-build working group at nuclear trade body the Nuclear Industry Association, said the construction industry would be ready to deliver should a programme be introduced.

Bryce said: “The building of a nuclear power station is very similar to that of any civil engineering project, except that you would have to build to international design code standards. We have concluded that the decision to press ahead would not have a major impact on the capacity of the UK. The impact would be minimal.”

He added that this would remain the case even if other large infrastructure projects got the go-ahead.

The NIA is expecting to enter discussions with the government over the coming months. It is also set to begin talks with the banks and utilities firms that are exploring ways to deliver the power stations.

The working group is still looking at the issue of specific skills provision and has begun discussions with CITB-ConstructionSkills.

The decision to press ahead would not have a major impact

Bill Bryce, NIA working group

Bryce said a key issue was that specialist equipment would be needed. He said: “Equipment such as reactor pressure vessels would need to be imported from the USA, Japan or France.”

Those in favour of the use of nuclear power say that it emits negligible carbon dioxide. However, opponents say it is more expensive than alternative energy sources and are concerned that waste remains radioactive for hundreds of years.

Nuclear plants generate about 23% of the UK’ electricity, and 40% in Scotland. Renewables account for less than 3% of all UK electricity, and about 11% in Scotland. The prime minister pointedly noted at his monthly Downing Street news conference yesterday that other countries were embracing nuclear power for their future energy needs.

The plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations are not economically viable without funding from the taxpayer, a report from the independent economics consultancy Oxera says.

n Amec has registered its interest in acquiring British Nuclear Group with the Shareholder Executive, the government body charged with overseeing the performance of state-owned enterprises. BNG, the clean-up arm of nuclear service provider British Nuclear Fuels, currently operates the Sellafield atomic site.

Last month, Amec paid £38m for NNC Holdings, a UK private sector nuclear services business.

Sir Peter Mason, chief executive of Amec, has said he hopes to win about 20% of the nuclear clean-up market, estimated to be £2bn a year.