A MAJOR contract to extend the operation of seven UK nuclear power stations, including a North-East plant, has been awarded, safeguarding 1,000 jobs.

Doosan Babcock's deal with French energy giant EDF is expected to be worth £70m a year over several years.

The contract covers seven of EDF's eight nuclear power stations - Hartlepool, Dungeness B in Kent, Hunterston B in North Ayrshire, Hinkley Point B in Somerset , Heysham 1 and 2 in Lancashire and Torness in East Lothian.

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Under the so-called lifetime enterprise agreement (LEA), Doosan Babcock will support the ongoing operation of the power stations and deliver projects to support life extension.

Michael Fallon, energy minister and former Darlington MP, said: "This shows that nuclear presents big opportunities for highly-skilled jobs, sustainable growth, and the lasting legacy of a UK supply chain. I want to make sure that the UK is at the forefront of this growing industry."

Cameron Gilmour, Doosan Babcock's nuclear service director, said: "Doosan Babcock has a long history of supporting EDF Energy in the UK nuclear sector and we are delighted to have been given this opportunity to further build our relationship.

"The LEA is the result of close collaboration and a great deal of planning from both our companies, and will give EDF Energy access to a range of specialist skills and technologies that will support its UK power generation strategy long into the future."

Brian Cowell, director of nuclear operations at EDF Energy, said: "Doosan Babcock's unique range of skills and capabilities in nuclear engineering, combined with its longstanding relationship with EDF Energy, makes it the ideal partner to deliver the lifetime enterprise agreement.

"The contract will enable us continue to deliver the secure, reliable, low carbon electricity the UK needs now and into the future."