Fears for British nuclear plans after Japan crisis

The crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan could delay plans for a new generation of British nuclear power stations, dealing a blow to the atomic energy industry's hopes for a £30-billion boost.

Britain currently has 10 plants and 19 nuclear reactors up and running which provide around a fifth of the country's electricity production.

The Labour government in 2008 adopted a policy of maintaining nuclear power as part of the country's energy mix and it was retained by the administration of Prime Minister David Cameron.

In line with this, several European firms want to build five new plants with at least 10 reactors, which would be worth the equivalent of about £30 billion to the nuclear industry.

The companies have been involved in a long process to get their bids approved but it had been going well. Now, however, Japan's atomic crisis is threatening to delay the lucrative deals.

Since the emergency began at the Fukushima plant, the British government has been at pains to stress that nuclear power is vital to meet the country's energy needs.

"I do think that nuclear power should be part of the mix in the future as it is part of the mix right now," Cameron told parliament on Wednesday.

Ministers have batted away demands from environmental campaigners to do a U-turn on the policy in light of the Japan nuclear crisis, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that has left thousands dead.

The nuclear crisis continued on Sunday, but crews fighting to cool reactors at the stricken Fukushima plant were hoping to switch partial power back on.

Energy Minister Chris Huhne echoed Cameron's view and even appeared to take a swipe at Germany when he referred disparagingly to "some continental politicians" that "seem to be rushing to judgments."

In the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis, Germany has ordered the temporary shutdown of the country's seven oldest nuclear reactors while authorities conduct safety probes.

Despite the British government's avowed faith in nuclear power, it has responded to public anxiety and asked the chief nuclear inspector, Mike Weightman, to produce a report on the implications of the situation in Japan.

An interim report will be completed by mid-May, with the final review set to be finished by September.

And yet the Health and Safety Executive, an official watchdog that oversees workplace health and safety issues, is supposed to approve in principle two models of reactor by June.

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