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Fresh doubts have emerged over the delivery of Britain’s nuclear ambitions, after EDF said it would issue an “adjusted timetable” for construction and RWE admitted it was still deciding “how to move on with the project”.

French nuclear specialist EDF has been planning to build the country’s first new station in partnership with Centrica by 2018 and the second by 2020.

RWE Npower, together with fellow German utility E.ON, have been planning the third and fourth by 2020 and 2025.

However, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday that RWE and E.ON have all but abandoned the idea of building nuclear plants in the UK.

Their home country Germany has decided to withdraw from the nuclear industry, meaning there would be less to be gained from starting a standalone atomic power business in the UK.

RWE has also appointed Goldman Sachs to review its options for Npower, raising the possibility that it could sell off the UK arm altogether for around £5bn.

On Tuesday, an RWE Npower spokesman said: “There has been no change in our plans regarding the [nuclear] project.

“We now wait for, and will examine, the Government’s decision on the general framework, and then decide on how to move on with the project.”

Separately, EDF Energy admitted that its projected timetable for the first new station could change.

The nuclear companies are waiting for the final report of chief nuclear inspector Mike Weightman, which may recommend that they need to spend more time improving safety in the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear disaster.

“It is important that the new nuclear programme in the UK should not be subject to unnecessary delay and it is not,” said Vincent de Rivaz, EDF Energy’s chief executive, speaking at a nuclear energy conference on Tuesday.

“We will give an adjusted timetable in the autumn after the Weightman report. This adjusted timetable will benefit also from the lessons we are learning from experiences and challenges elsewhere – at our new build projects in China and in France. These experiences are, of course, invaluable as we progress works in the UK,” he added.

“Regarding the timetable, the most important thing is to have a viable project. Therefore, it is crucial that we continue to maintain a focus on timely decision-making and we do.”

Speaking at the same event, energy minister Charles Hendry re-iterated the Government’s commitment to supporting nuclear power. The minister described nuclear as a technology that will “keep bills down and the lights on”.

The Government is planning to propose changes to the law giving financial support to nuclear power next week in a White Paper.

It is likely to introduce a subsidy that pays companies for generating low-carbon electricity that will be passed on to consumers through their energy bills. The changes are also expected to include payments to power plants for making generating capacity available, even if it is not supplying electricity all the time.

The Daily Telegraph, 6 July 2011