The UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne has reassured investors that the coalition government is committed to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants following criticism from industrial leaders that it had lost focus.

Speaking on national radio, Huhne said that the country was on course to commission the first of its new reactors in 2018 and that the government was continuing work to provide the right regulatory environment for attracting investment.

“We will have a system of incentives that I believe will bring forth private investment and that is what investors have been telling me,” Huhne told BBC Radio, reacting to a warning from Dr. Neil Bentley of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) that investors were worried about the government’s lack of focus on the “bigger picture” issues such as planning.

“Investors are very worried that we are not seeing the same push from the government on nuclear new build,” said Bentley, noting that some £150 billion of investment is required in the country’s power sector. “We need to sort out the planning system … This is the biggest issue that many investors tell us is worrying them. Timely decisions need to be at the forefront of ministers’ minds when they are thinking of planning reform.”

Huhne – a Liberal Democrat MP who in the past has been vehemently opposed to nuclear power – said that he had “made it very clear in discussions with investors that investment will go ahead and we will have a new suite of nuclear power stations”. The private investment would, he said, be underpinned by a floor price for carbon and emissions trading in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

“What investors are looking at now are that the oil and gas prices are likely to be high and volatile and carbon prices will also be high,” said Huhne. “We have made a commitment to consult on a carbon price floor … which we will be doing this autumn. Add all these together and there is a very strong signal that we are going ahead with new nuclear.”

Huhne could not admit to being a “convert” to nuclear power, but said that in the past his views on nuclear had been “much misunderstood”. He also said that he had “absolutely no intention of the lights going out on my watch”.

“I believe it is clear … because of the oil and gas price and because of what’s happening on the carbon price that there will be investment in new nuclear and that will be an important part of our energy mix.”

Three months ago the Liberal Democrats campaigned in the general election on an anti-nuclear ticket, favouring instead investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy in their manifesto.

However the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition agreement advocates the construction of new nuclear power plants provided that there is no public subsidy.