Hutton calls for “nuclear renaissance”

Business secretary John Hutton has called for a massive expansion of nuclear power, saying it could be a new North Sea oil for the British economy.

In a speech to the union Unite, he said increasing the number of nuclear reactors in the UK could inject £20 billion into the economy, create 100,000 new jobs and help reduce carbon emissions.

His call came a day ahead of a French-UK deal to use French expertise to build nuclear power stations in the UK.

Gordon Brown and president Nicolas Sarkozy are set to announce tomorrow that French-designed reactors will replace Britain’s ageing power stations.

In January the government enraged environmental campaigners by giving its support for private companies to replace Britain’s 23 nuclear reactors. French energy firm EDF is expected to be one of the companies involved in the development.

Mr Hutton today urged the industry to be more ambitious and increase the number of reactors, arguing nuclear should contribute a “significantly higher proportion” of Britain’s energy.

Around 20 per cent of energy comes from nuclear sources at present, compared to 80 per cent in France.

Mr Hutton argued embracing nuclear power could place Britain as the “gateway to a new nuclear renaissance” across Europe.

He said: “There has never been a greater global demand for finance, equipment and skills to build and operate nuclear power stations.

“I want Britain to be leading the world in the development and application of this new generation of low carbon power technology.”

Removing an “artificial cap” could create thousands of long-term highly skilled jobs with “massive prizes” throughout the supply chain, he added.

Mr Hutton’s speech marks one of the most pro-nuclear statements from the government and the Liberal Democrats urged it to focus on renewables not nuclear energy.

Lib Dem environment spokesman Steve Webb said the government risked “putting all its eggs in nuclear basket”.

“Any new stations won’t start producing electricity and carbon savings until after 2020,” he said.

“All the latest evidence shows that climate change is hitting harder and quicker than expected. We need to reduce our emissions now.”

Friends of the Earth also branded nuclear power a “dangerous and expensive distraction” to climate change.