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Comments indicate ministers are resigned to the idea that fewer atomic plants will be built.

The U.K. government will find alternative forms of clean energy to meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions even if nuclear developments are delayed, an energy minister said.

Charles Hendry, a junior minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, acknowledged there’s a risk that companies delay or scale back investments in new nuclear power because of risks highlighted by the atomic accident in Japan.

“There is a very serious gap, and we’re working very hard to close that gap,” Hendry said on BBC Radio 4 in London today. “We see much of our coal plants closing by the middle of this decade and much of our nuclear plants as well.”

Britain aims to build 10 new nuclear plants in the next decade to replace the ones that are retiring. Companies including EDF SA (EDF), E.ON AG (EOAN) and RWE AG (RWE) are considering investments in new U.K. atomic plants.

Hendry said the U.K. can reduce carbon emissions even without new nuclear plants, though it hasn’t yet mapped out how. His comments indicate ministers are resigned to the idea that fewer atomic plants will be built.

“There is a challenge,” he said. “We’re not there yet. We can meet our objectives without nuclear. It would be more expensive. Safety is our top priority.”

Bloomberg, 10 April 2011