Energy minister Malcolm Wicks says the government will not bankroll the new generation of nuclear power stations, but that it will “facilitate” their funding.

Speaking at a fringe event on Tuesday, immediately before prime minister Tony Blair used his conference speech to promise to look at civil nuclear power, Wicks said: “The Treasury is not in the business of providing a new nuclear generation; it will have to come from the market.” However, he added that the government would “facilitate the financing” of new power stations.

He stressed that renewable energy and nuclear power should be part of a complementary effort to tackle climate change and were not in opposition to one another.

In response, Baroness Young, chief executive of the Environment Agency, warned the minister that by giving the go-ahead to a fresh nuclear programme, the government could undermine fragile investor confidence in less tried-and-tested renewable technologies.

Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the T&G union, backed the government’s decision to look afresh at nuclear power. He said:

“It would be dangerous in the extreme for our country to become dependent on uncertain sources to supply gas.”

Blair said in his keynote conference speech that the government would be publishing its proposals on energy policy next year.

He said: “How much longer can countries such as ours allow the security of our energy supply to be dependent on some of the most unstable parts of the world?

“That means an assessment of all options, including civil nuclear power.”

His statement met a hostile response from environmentalists. Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: “Nuclear power is not a solution to climate change. It could only ever provide for a tiny proportion of our energy needs and this would be at great cost to the taxpayer and the environment.”