THE Department for Business today moved to deny claims that a list of sites for new nuclear power stations has been drawn up.

Press reports said that Gordon Brown was to fast-track the building of eight new nuclear power stations - including one at Hartlepool - to cut the UK's dependence on oil.

Speaking yesterday at the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean in Paris, the Prime Minister called for ''a renaissance of nuclear power'' as an alternative to the fossil fuels linked to climate change.

According to the reports, ministers have identified sites alongside existing reactors - including Hartlepool, Sizewell, Heysham, Dungeness, Hinkley Point, and Bradwell - as the most suitable places for the new nuclear stations.

But the claims drew an unusually strongly-worded denial from the Department for Business.

''This is nonsense. There is no predetermined list of sites for building new nuclear power stations,'' it said in a statement.

''We are currently undertaking a strategic siting assessment process which will identify the criteria to assess the suitability of sites and will also identify a list of sites nominated which meet those criteria.

''The Government has set out a clear vision for nuclear new build. Energy companies have been invited to bring forward proposals for new nuclear power stations as part of the solution to the UK's future low carbon energy needs.'' The current nuclear power station at Hartlepool, which is capable of supplying more than 1.5 million homes in the region, is due to be decommissioned in 2014.

However, owners British Energy have already confirmed its intentions to build a replacement reactor at the site, which employs 700 people.

Stuart Crooks, British Energy station director at Hartlepool, told The Northern Echo in January that all the company's sites had been assessed for potential new build and that "Hartlepool is very much part of the company's new build strategy".

Business Secretary John Hutton is, like Mr Brown, seen as a strong advocate of nuclear power within the Government.

Nevertheless, the latest statement appears to reflect tensions within Whitehall at the way the such a sensitive issue is been handled through anonymous briefings attributed to unnamed ''Downing Street officials''.

It is likely to spark claims by opponents of the new reactors that the locations have been settled before the formal planning process has even begun.

A No 10 spokesman said: ''The Prime Minister has been clear that all the predictions both for UK and global energy needs indicate that significant amounts of nuclear new-build will be needed.

''It will be for the private sector to bring forward specific proposals in due course.''