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American nuclear boom promises rich pickings for UK firms

BRITAIN'S NUCLEAR energy companies are poised to benefit from the United States' decision last week to launch a major nuclear power station construction programme.

They expect to pick up billions of dollars worth of design and construction contracts in the US because they have more recent experience in building such plants.

Construction of new nuclear reactors and upgrading existing facilities are among the key strategies mapped out in the US government's National Energy Policy paper, published last Thursday.

The US is turning to nuclear power to plug gaping holes in its energy supply infrastructure.

British generating and reprocessing firm BNFL, owner of Westinghouse, said this week it stood to gain from the new turn in US energy policy. It manufactures one of three US government-approved reactor designs, the AP600 pressurised water reactor.

'If the full potential of the proposed changes is realised in the US, BNFL will be well positioned to provide nuclear reactor technology and associated fuel, ' said chairman Hugh Collum.

Generator British Energy, a 50% owner of US-based nuclear operator AmerGen, also anticipated major opportunities for UK players. .

'If plans come to fruition it will have a major impact on the whole industry, ' said a spokesman.

Electricity demand is rapidly outstripping supply across the US. There are fears of a nationwide escalation of blackouts of the kind that have plagued California over the last year. Power cuts are now also expected to hit New York.

Although the last US reactor to be built was connected to the grid as recently as 1993, no new schemes have been approved since 1973. More capacity is needed if nuclear power is to continue delivering its present 20% of US energy, the report states.

Reactors are likely to be pressurised water reactor and pebble bed reactor designs. Construction costs will be in the region of £1.5bn-£2bn per reactor. The US government is proposing to build well over 100 new power stations - coal and gas-fired as well as nuclear.

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