ELECTRICITE De France Has Entered the Race to Design and Build Nuclear Power Stations in the UK in a Move That Will Stir Debate over Its Rapid and Controversial Expansion in the British Energy Market

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ELECTRICITE de France has entered the race to design and build nuclear power stations in the UK in a move that will stir debate over its rapid and controversial expansion in the British energy market.

The French state-owned nuclear operator has put forward a design for a small pressurised water reactor which it says is superior to the Westinghouse design proposed by Britain's domestic nuclear champion, BNFL.

EdF is also understood to be preparing a pound sterling1.5bn bid for the distribution arm of Eastern Electricity, which is owned by the US-based utility, TXU. Both companies declined to comment yesterday, but TXU is said to have held preliminary talks with both EdF and a number of bidders, including GE Capital.

Industry sources said the deal would make sense because TXU and EdF already have a joint venture in 24Seven, which runs the distribution network of EdF's London Electricity as well as the East Anglian network.

EdF's growing presence in the UK - and in other major European markets outside France - has alarmed some industry experts, who say the company is using its protected domestic market to create a pan-European power giant.

As well as London Electricity, the group owns Sweb, the south-west electricity distribution business, and two conventional power plants. It is one of the world's largest nuclear generators and is keen to take part in constructing nuclear capacity in the UK. Its chance could come with the government's energy review, which should be completed by the end of the year. It will set out the options on how to meet the UK's energy needs for the next 50 years.

All but one of the country's nuclear reactors, which provide around one-quarter of the UK's energy, will be decommissioned by 2023 and if they are to be replaced, industry figures say construction plans need to be drawn up soon. …