PLANS for a new generation of nuclear power stations have been left up in the air after the Government's controversial energy review failed to give firm backing to a new construction programme.
The long-awaited review, which was published on Tuesday, concluded that nuclear 'could be economically viable' but stopped short of announcing firm building plans.
Contractors did receive some cheer with the news that there would be fur ther attempts to speed up the planning process for any new generation of nuclear power plants, with another consultation due on planning improvements.
Trade and Industry secretary Alistair Darling said: 'Our analysis suggests that, alongside other low carbon generating options, a new generation of nuclear power stations could make a contribution to reducing carbon emissions and reducing our reliance on imported energy.'
Tuesday's 220-page energy review also called for a fivefold increase in energy generation from wind, solar, tidal and agricultural sources.
This will mean the construction of many wind farms, several of which are already going through planning stages in Scotland.
Amec managing director Mike Straughen said: 'There is an urgent need for action and still a lot of detail needed and no one should think that the job is done.
'The support for nuclear and further commitment to renewables is right but the private sector will only invest across all technologies, and nuclear in particular, if we get assurances regarding the state of the market 10 years f rom now.
'It is also essential that British companies play a major role in delivering these energy assets. It is in British interests that we use this opportunity to renew our skills and expertise.
'The streamlining of the current planning regulations is of great importance and, while there must be no sidestepping of the democratic process, we know from our experiences following the last energy review that the process must be made to work for all stakeholders, not just vocal interest groups.'
Each nuclear station costs around £2.5 billion to build and work on site lasts for an initial period of around five years.
It is believed that the power stations will be built on the sites of the existing plants, a move which will also speed up planning procedures.
Professor Richard Green, director for the Institute for Energy Research and Policy at the University of Birmingham, said: 'If they get the go-ahead, the new generation of plants will spell good news for contractors.
'The Trade and Industry Committee has researched that civil engineering contractors will be doing around 30 per cent of the work on each site, which will increase civil engineering output by a sixth.'
Nuclear plant costs could spiral
THE COST of building a new generation of nuclear power stations could spiral out of control without a consistent design approach, MPs warned this week.
Politicians on the House of Commons trade and industry committee urged the Government to seize the advantage of the cost and time savings from using a single design of reactor for the building programme.
In its New Nuclear? Examining the Issues report, the committee said: 'The cost overruns and delays, which led to the construction of Dungeness B taking 18 years, were to a large extent attributed to varying designs and different contractors for each of the seven advanced gas-cooled reactors.'
In the UK, the average construction time for nuclear power stations is 11 years due to the lengthy planning and licensing process that takes place before work begins.
The MPs have called for a review of this process to shorten lead times for new power stations. The last to be built, Sizewell B, was completed in 1995 after being given in principle approval in 1981.
They said: 'We received a significant amount of evidence citing the regulatory system as a key inhibitor to any investment in new nuclear build, both at present and in the future.'