Britain and France sign civil nuclear pact

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed on Thursday to cooperate on civil nuclear technology, improving French companies' chances of leading the UK's nuclear power push.

France already gets 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and the deal will give French companies favoured access to Britain where the government says it urgently needs a new fleet of nuclear reactors.

After their meeting at a soccer stadium in north London, the two leaders said in a statement they had agreed to streamline the development of projects by getting French and British nuclear regulators to work more closely on nuclear safety, security, waste management and reactor licensing.

They also agreed to increase the exchange of nuclear technicians and expertise, which France's thriving nuclear industry can offer more of after decades of decline in the sector in Britain.

The two leaders said the deal might at some stage be extended to include other European Union countries.

EDF Energy, the British subsidiary of major French power utility EDF (EDF.PA: Quote, Profile, Research), has said it wants to build four new nuclear power plants in Britain and has opted for the new European EPR reactor design.

It is one of four designs being vetted by the British government for pre-construction approval.

Business Minister John Hutton said on Wednesday he hoped the Anglo-French civil nuclear cooperation would help make Britain a springboard for the global rebirth of the nuclear power industry in the face of global warming.