WS Atkins Sees Months of Studies for U.K. Nuclear After Quake

WS Atkins Plc, the U.K.’s biggest engineering-design company, said that Britain’s nuclear program could be set back by months as more studies will be needed after Japan suffered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

“There’s going to be less-immediate new build, but I think the U.K. has been sensibly committed to a nuclear program,” Chief Executive Officer Keith Clarke said in an interview today. “It will proceed in a measured and sensible fashion.”

Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant is leaking radiation after a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on March 11. While more studies of design standards will probably be needed before new building in the U.K., a delay of months should be taken in context of a plan that may span nearly two decades, Clarke said.

Electricite de France SA wants to complete the first of four new reactors at Hinkley Point in southwest England by 2018. Atkins works on decommissioning and maintaining Britain’s current nuclear plants. For new construction, Atkins would work with government and utilities to plan locations, study the likely environmental effects and design parts.

“I think we’re talking of delays of months rather than years,” Clarke said. “A little bit of extra study now is not entirely unexpected.”

EDF, based in Paris, acquired the U.K.’s nuclear plants in 2008 before selling a 20 percent stake to Centrica Plc (CNA), the country’s largest energy supplier.

Safety Standards

Britain’s new generation of proposed reactors will be safer than those at the Dai-Ichi plant as they will be capable of being shut down without the need for extra power.

“New nuclear reactors have different safety standards, have different technology which isn’t dependent on cooling once you turn it off,” said Clarke. “You can turn it off and walk away. This was not the case with old reactors.”

Atkins earnings for the fiscal year ending March 31 will beat analysts’ estimates as business in the Middle East has “benefited from increasing activity in the second half of the year,” it said in a statement today.

Atkins rose as much as 8.6 percent in London trading, the biggest intraday jump since November 2009. The stock traded 7.6 percent higher at 741 pence as of 12:41 p.m., valuing the Epsom, England-based company at 742 million pounds ($1.2 billion).

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said on April 6 there are likely to be “modest delays” in the construction of new nuclear plants in the U.K. as the country assesses what happened at the Dai-Ichi plant. Huhne said on March 14 that he asked Mike Weightman, the U.K.’s chief nuclear inspector, to report on the implications of Japan’s nuclear crisis.

“This is not a seminal point in reappraising” whether nuclear energy should continue, Clarke said today. “It’s a point of learning to make sure it remains viable in an appropriate and safe fashion.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Howard Mustoe in London at hmustoe@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

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