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Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat energy secretary, last night signalled a softening of his opposition to nuclear power, insisting he was no “ideological ayatollah”.

Huhne, who once described nuclear power as a “failed” technology, claimed that plants would be built despite the government’s refusal to subsidise the industry.

“It is very clear from the coalition agreement that there will be a new generation of nuclear power,” he said in an interview with The Sunday Times.

Last year the government identified 10 sites where nuclear reactors could be built.

The arrival of Huhne, the most radical of the five Lib Dem cabinet ministers, at the Department of Energy and Climate Change had sparked concern that the entire civil nuclear programme might be put on hold. But he insisted that despite budgetary restrictions there was an appetite to build plants.

“The investors who are most interested in this issue accept the situation where there will be no subsidy,” he said.

He said the likely rise in gas and oil prices over the next few years would make nuclear more attractive to private finance. “They are looking at the likely rise in the carbon price. That will provide an incentive to all low-carbon and zero-carbon forms of energy.”

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