February 15, 2007 / 3:37 PM / 12 years ago

EDF plans first new nuclear power plant

LONDON (Reuters) - EDF Energy will open its first new nuclear power plant in the country within a decade if all goes according to plan, chief executive Vincent de Rivaz said on Thursday.

A golfer walks across a green near the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria in this March 26, 2000 file photo. REUTERS/Dan Chung

Building on the unrivalled experience of French parent company EDF (EDF.PA) where 80 percent of power is from nuclear, de Rivaz is confident he can make the clear business case for a new nuclear power plant using only private finance.

“EDF will turn on its first nuclear plant in Britain before Christmas 2017 because it will be the right time,” de Rivaz told Reuters in an interview.

“It is the moment of the power crunch. Without it the lights will go out,” he added.

Nuclear plants supply about 20 percent of the country’s electricity, but most are scheduled to go out of service within a decade.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has repeatedly said nuclear power must have a role in the country’s future energy mix to help in the fight against global warming and to reduce reliance on imports of gas and oil as North Sea supplies dwindle.

Scientists say emissions of carbon gases from burning fossil fuels for power and transport will boost global temperatures by up to four degrees Celsius this century, causing floods, famines and putting millions of lives at risk.

LOW-CARBON, BUT LETHAL WASTE

Advocates say nuclear power is low-carbon and safe, while opponents say it is dirty and dangerous because the waste remains lethal for hundreds of years.

But de Rivaz was adamant. “If we want to avoid carbon dioxide emissions going up, we have no alternative but to build new nuclear,” he said.

Next month the government will publish an Energy White Paper. It is expected to stress energy efficiency and declare support for a wide range of energy sources, including renewables like wind and biofuels, as well as backing new nuclear power.

De Rivaz said he eagerly awaited the White Paper and was sure nuclear could make its own case economically, environmentally and in terms of public acceptance.

“We are fully confident that construction costs, fuel costs, operating costs, decommissioning costs, the cost of safe disposal of waste altogether will make a competitive price for nuclear,” he said.

“I know there will be competition both from other energy sources and from other nuclear operators. That is why I am confident there will be new nuclear stations,” he added. “Nuclear and competition go together.”

De Rivaz said several issues still needed to be resolved — design pre-licensing, planning permission delays, finding available and acceptable sites, waste disposal and the price of carbon.

The government is expected to approve pre-licensing of reactor designs — a feature that has bogged down previous nuclear plans — and streamline the planning process to speed up the process.

A government review last year said deep geological disposal was the preferred long-term solution for nuclear waste, but that identification of a site was vital.

With this in mind, de Rivaz said the single most critical element was a long-term and stable market for carbon that would set a clear and transparent price.

“The vision is there. The pragmatics have to be there too,” he said. “The carbon price is one of the very important issues. The vision has to be global.”

“The trouble is that for now there is nothing beyond 2012,” he added, referring both to the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and the Kyoto Protocol on cutting carbon emissions.

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