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Executives from big energy companies are set to be called in front of an influential committee of MPs amid concerns that Britain’s “nuclear renaissance” is under threat.
Eon and RWE, the German utilities, announced last month they were selling their Horizon joint venture to build nuclear reactors in Britain, in part because of financial difficulties caused by Germany’s retreat from atomic power after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
The reported on Saturday that Centrica has also threatened to pull out of a separate consortium with EDF Energy due to uncertainty over the government’s energy policy.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the energy select committee, said it was ominous that no buyer had come forward to purchase Horizon.
He also warned he was “very alarmed” by the threat of withdrawal from Centrica, which is planning a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in a joint venture with EDF Energy.
Senior figures from the four companies as well as Charles Hendry, energy minister, are expected to be called to give evidence after the committee has met on Tuesday.
Mr Yeo warned that the electoral success of François Hollande, the Socialist challenger who won the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday, was a “risk factor” for Britain’s nuclear programme given his aim of reducing the share of atomic energy in France. EDF is majority-owned by the French state.
“He is certainly a lot cooler on nuclear than [President Nicolas] Sarkozy,” Mr Yeo added.
But the British government is broadly phlegmatic about Mr Hollande winning the presidential race, believing he would not rein back EDF’s nuclear programme overseas.
Uncertainty over the UK’s nuclear plans comes as David Cameron prepares to appear at a “clean energy” gathering of 23 international energy ministers on Thursday in London. However, the prime minister’s address has been downgraded from a keynote “green” speech to a short round-table.
Environmental groups condemned the move, with Greenpeace saying it had hoped the prime minister would use the speech to “re-establish investor confidence in the clean technology sector”. Downing Street claimed Mr Cameron had never firmly decided to give a speech.
Ministers are meanwhile embroiled in a debate over whom to appoint as new chairman of the climate change committee.
While the energy department had been planning to appoint Richard Lambert, former head of the CBI, Mr Cameron is understood to have swung his weight behind former Tory MP John Gummer. A spokesman for Ed Davey, energy secretary, insisted that no decision had yet been made.