Mr Blair’s speech to the Confederation of British Industry was delayed by a group of protestors from the environmental campaign group Greenpeace, which is strongly opposed to nuclear power. However, there has been mounting speculation over recent weeks that the prime minister had warmed to the idea of new nuclear plants as a means to enable the UK to meet its pollution targets.

Business leaders have been lobbying hard for the government to produce a clear, long term strategy on energy as industry suffers increasingly from the ongoing surge in gas and oil prices. All bar one of the UK’s current nuclear power station fleet will have been decommissioned by 2023, raising the prospect of an ‘energy gap’. The aging nuclear plants cannot realistically be replaced with gas stations, given the adverse effect this would have on meeting Kyoto commitments.

However, gaining approval for another tranche of nuclear plants is likely to prove a significant challenge politically to the government, with much of the parliamentary Labour party against the move. The Financial Times newspaper has reported that there has already been contact between the government and the opposition Conservatives aimed at securing cross-party consensus on the issue.