Fears of a nuclear power station being built in Oxfordshire were mounting today as the Didcot area emerged as a likely site.

Harwell was included as a "key opportunity for nuclear development" in a report as the Government begins planning for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Didcot, as an existing power station, could also be considered as a potential site for a nuclear power station, according to a Government paper.

advertisement The report, commissioned from a leading energy analyst, sets out why sites in Oxfordshire should be looked at among favoured locations in the South of England.

The report urges the Government to focus on existing civil nuclear licensed sites, such as Harwell.

The atomic research site at Harwell is viewed as one of the best available locations.

But alarm in Oxfordshire will be intensified by news that nearby Didcot Power Station is also mentioned as a possible site - meaning that the county has two potential sites for a nuclear power station.

For the consultants say that conventional power station sites should also be carefully considered.

The report, by Jackson Consulting, was commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Consultants say that a new power station would require vast cooling towers "as used by conventional coal and gas fired generating stations such as Didcot in Oxfordshire".

It suggests that building a nuclear power station on such a site would avoid many problems and some of the public protests that would likely arise elsewhere in the country.

The report says: "Cooling towers are very large structures which substantially damage the local amenity value from visual intrusion, causing significant difficulties with local public acceptance, as well as adding to the cost of construction and reducing the station's power output three to five per cent."

According to the Jackson report, ease of connection to the national grid is the main factor in determining a site's suitability.

Ed Vaizey, the Conservative MP for Wantage and Didcot, said he had received no advanced warning of the report.

He said: "It does not surprise me that Didcot and Harwell have been put in the frame for the next generation of nuclear power stations.

"My constituency already supplies a third of the power for the South East and drives the South East's economy. The Government also wants us to supply half of London's water.

"But this is a research exercise. It is a million miles from being a firm proposal. But obviously we must be prepared for any proposal in the future."

The report was submitted to the DTI last year.

But efforts by Greenpeace to use the freedom of information rules to make it public were repeatedly blocked.

The study was finally disclosed as the Government published its latest energy white paper.

Greenpeace director John Saven said: "The list of preferred sites for new build in this report is a matter of national interest, not just something for civil servants to see. It is scandalous the Government was going to keep it under wraps."

Craig Simmons, leader of the Green Party on Oxfordshire County Council, said: "This suggests that Oxfordshire is the most likely inland site for a nuclear power station.

"Having a nuclear power station on Oxford's door steps highlights many issues of safety. It is an inappropriate site."

Neville Harris, county councillor for Didcot South, said: "There must be a huge and proper debate.

"And the outcome of this debate must not be prejudged. I know a lot of people will want to talk about renewable energy.

"Politicians at all levels must not abdicate their responsibility by seeking to privatise important environmental decisions."

Local people were appalled and surprised by the news that they could have a nuclear power station on their doorstep.

Tessa Avenell, of Harwell, said: "I am pretty shocked about this. I didn't know anything about it, so I am very surprised.

"I would consider moving if they built a nuclear power station near here."

Joyce Norton, of Barrow Park, Harwell, said: "I have been here for seven years and I really like it. I wouldn't be at all happy if they built something like that here."

Oxford Friends of the Earth spokesman, Andrew Wood, said: "It's largely speculation at the moment, if there would be a nuclear power station at Harwell, or indeed elsewhere in Oxfordshire.

"The Government is missing a golden opportunity to make the UK a world leader in developing a safe, clean and low-carbon future.

"Building new nuclear plants would be a costly, dangerous and ineffective way to cut UK carbon emissions.

"It would also divert valuable resources from sustainable solutions for tackling climate change.

"The Government should set out ambitious policies on energy efficiency, renewable power, carbon capture and cleaner systems of transport.

"Unfortunately, ministers have been taken in by the nuclear lobby yet again."

The DTI said the report's conclusions were those of the consultants and it was too early to consider the siting of any potential new stations.

Of the UK's 19 existing civil nuclear power station sites, only nine are considered feasible for new reactors, and only four are immediately available.

The report adds that new stations are unlikely to be feasible in Wales and Scotland because of devolution.

Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said it would be a profound mistake to rule out nuclear energy at a time of dwindling North Sea oil and gas supplies and pressure to tackle green house gas emissions.