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. . . but industry says it could build plants in seven years

CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY chiefs are to tell the Government that Britain's new generation of nuclear power stations could be built in as little as seven to 10 years - half the traditional timescale.

Key to the speed up would be the use of modular construction techniques and off-the-peg, established technology.

Twenty-ve organisations including Costain, Amec, Arup, Sir Robert McAlpine, Westinghouse and BNFL met at Arup's of ces in London on Monday, ahead of publication of the energy review, to establish the best way to deliver prime minister Tony Blair's nuclear power ambitions.

'We need to take advantage of others' experience and established technology, ' said Richard Ogden, chairman of Build Offsite and consultant Acumen 7.

'The Government is looking for private finance to build the stations. The banks and insurers will want to know we can do it to the right price and on time.'

Modular techniques will cut costs, speed up the process and improve safety, he claimed. The average cost of an off-the-shelf plant is £1.5bn to £2bn.

The UK's last nuclear power plant - Sizewell B - was completed in 1994 and took 14 years to design and build, including a two-year planning inquiry. It cost £2bn at 1994 prices (NCE 20 October 1994).

'At our meeting we looked at what has been achieved at Terminal 5 - particularly the control tower - by using off site construction, and in other industries using nuclear technology, such as the Mount Vernon Cancer Therapy Treatment centre, ' said Ogden.

At Mount Vernon use of prefabricated units cut 17 months from traditional construction time (NCE 10 November 2005).

'We have the sites: our existing nuclear plants are designed to take additional reactors; staff live locally; the surrounding communities are generally sympathetic; electricity transmission systems are in place and we have access to cooling water. We can build new plants safely and quickly, ' said Costain chairman David Jefferies, who was at Monday's meeting.

The group of industry leaders intends to take its plan to the Department for Trade and Industry in three months.

Industry reaction

'I don't think the Government has really committed to anything. It's a balanced review that encourages the private sector to play a role. But it doesn't say how many [nuclear power stations] or where they are going to go. We're a long way off from seeing the meat on the bones of this, ' ICE president Gordon Masterton.

'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 and we are pleased to see recognition that the North Sea, which was not mentioned in the last review, remains a valuable long-term asset for the UK, ' Mike Straughen, group managing director, Amec.

'The principal challenge now is delivery, not further policy renement. The three years between the 2003 Energy White Paper and the Energy Review have been largely wasted through poor performance on key programmes, inter-departmental incoherence and inadequate leadership. There can be no further delays in driving forward the transition to a genuinely sustainable energy economy, ' Jonathon Porritt, SDC chairman.

'I don't buy the argument that building new nuclear power stations using off-the-shelf technology will allow them to be built quicker. I mean, what technology are we talking about and whose is it? And how are we going to build 10 new nuclear power stations while preparing for the Olympics?'

Whitbybird director Mark Whitby.

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