CENTRICA is to pull out of plans to build new nuclear power stations in Britain, dealing a fresh blow to the industry amid warnings that nuclear was turning into an economic nightmare.

The British Gas-owned company acquired a 20 per cent interest in French firm EDF Energy’s eight nuclear power stations in this country and an option for a 20 per cent stake in the building of new sites at Hinkley Point, in Somerset, and Sizewell, in Suffolk.

Centrica said its 20 per cent share of the pre-development expenditure – about £200m – will be written off as an exceptional cost in the group’s 2012 results.

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The company said the anticipated project costs in new nuclear had increased and the construction timetable had extended by a number of years.

Chief executive Sam Laidlaw said: “It is clear that both the construction costs and timeline for build have increased significantly.

“There has been good progress on the ground but we remain uncertain about overall construction costs and timeline.’’ The news follows publication of a report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee which showed that the ‘‘enormous’’ legacy of nuclear waste at Sellafield, in Cumbria, has been allowed to build up, with the cost of decommissioning the site reaching £67.5bn, with no indication of when the cost will stop rising.

Last week, leaders of Cumbria County Council decided against studying the prospect of building an underground nuclear waste site in its area.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: ‘‘We are determined to make the UK a leading global destination for investment in new nuclear, which will play a key role in our future energy mix.

‘‘The decision by Centrica reflects the company’s investment priorities and is not a reflection on UK Government policy.”