London: Britain is pressing ahead with an overhaul of its ageing nuclear plants despite trouble at home with the French firms leading the drive and doubts after the Fukushima disaster, officials said on Thursday.
"The public supports nuclear," Hergen Haye, director of new nuclear projects at the energy ministry, said at Britain's Nuclear Industry Association conference.
"All the main political parties support nuclear broadly speaking and we have an industry willing to take up the challenge," he told executives.
Several energy companies -- none of them British -- have lined up to build at least 10 new reactors in a scramble that critics say will end up severely delayed and costing much more than planned.
A plan led by French electricity giant EDF for two reactors at the Hinkley Point plant in southwest England is the most advanced, having already received approval from the European Commission.
A final decision is expected in the first quarter of next year and the reactors are planned to be switched on by 2023, although EDF is still in talks with its partners over stakes in the consortium.
Delays and cost overruns at EDF's Flamanville plant in northwest France have added to concerns for Hinkley Point, along with financial woes for French nuclear firm Areva, another project partner.
Areva earlier this month was forced to abandon its financial targets for the next two years due to problems with cash flow, the timetable for restarting Japanese reactors, pushed-back plans for building new reactors, and weak conditions in France.
Britain has pressed ahead with plans to develop nuclear power even after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, unlike Germany which is phasing it out.
But Steve Thomas, a professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, said Britain's plan for pressurised water EPR reactors was financially "risky".
There are four EPRs currently being built in the world.
"All four EPRs, including the two in China, are late and in the French and Finnish case, extremely late and far over budget, so the odds are against UK building to time and cost," Thomas said.
"Even if the UK builds all 10 reactors the government is talking about, nuclear will only take about 30 per cent of electricity. So in that sense, we are not relying on nuclear.
There are opportunity costs to nuclear and other less financially risky options, such as wind and energy efficiency are being foregone," he said.