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Can PFI deliver the nuclear solution?

AGENDA - COMMENT

CIVIL engineers must be smacking their lips this week after the Government gave its backing to a raft of transport and nuclear power projects.

At least for the time being, the industry can count on the fact that the country's future infrastructure is a top priority in Whitehall.

The Energy Review's backing for a new generation of nuclear power stations is a significant step for construction and the country.

As such it has overshadowed an equally vital commitment to mark out nuclear, gas and coalfired power stations, plus transmission lines, as structures of national importance to speed planning and construction. This is long overdue.

Contractors now face the happy prospect of a nuclear decommissioning spending bonanza, running alongside a nuclear building programme. No wonder there is a palpable feeling of optimism for the first time in years.

But the industry needs a quick reality check before euphoria sets in. The next generation of power stations is expected to be built using private finance. This has its own difficulties, as anybody involved with hospital PFI knows. A big concern is whether stream lined planning and carbon taxes on fossil fuel generation will be enough to entice developers into building subsidy-free nuclear power stations.

There are other unanswered questions, such as who will pay for decommissioning and waste storage? Nothing will be certain until the Government publishes full details of its proposals at the end of 2006. So save the celebrations for the New Year.