The announcement, which has been welcomed by unions and business leaders, follows calls from the pro-nuclear lobby for an early decision as most of the 19 reactors at Britain's 10 existing nuclear power stations, will close by 2023.
"Nuclear power can only deliver a four per cent cut in emissions some time after 2025, and that's too little too late at too high a price"
John Sauven, Greenpeace
Existing plants currently provide 19 per cent of Britain's electricity.
Opponents of the decision, who have strong concerns over waste and safety, have questioned whether atomic energy can help cut carbon emissions.
They have also demanded greater clarity on costs, plus assurances that consumers will not have to pay for eventual decommissioning.
Last year, Greenpeace, the environmental campaign group, won a legal challenge after complaining that the government's consultation process was flawed.
The group said it was closely studying the re-ordered consultation and had not ruled out fresh action.
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Britain's third political party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green party all want more emphasis on sustainable or renewable energy such as wind, wave and tidal power.
According to government figures, five per cent of Britain's electricity came from sustainable sources in 2006. The government proposes to increase this to 15 per cent by 2015.
John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, described Thursday's announcement as "bad news".
He said: "Nuclear power can only deliver a four per cent cut in emissions some time after 2025, and that's too little too late at too high a price.
"We need energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state of the art decentralised power stations like those in Scandinavia. That's the way to defeat climate change and ensure energy security."
Hutton sought to address those concerns, saying nuclear power had been a "tried and tested, safe and secure form of low-carbon technology" for more than 50 years, and was more efficient and cost-effective than coal-fired stations.
He said safety would be the priority, but that it would be wrong to set a target for the amount of electricity to be produced by nuclear or any other form of low-carbon energy.
Recent media reports in the UK have suggested Brown is in favour of 10 new reactors.
Hutton made no mention of cost for the plants, but last July The Guardian newspaper said six reactors could cost as much as $24bn.
|Greenpeace is protesting over |
the new nuclear stations [AP]
The business secretary said the outlay for developing, building, operating the new plants and disposing of nuclear waste would be met by energy companies, not the taxpayer.
The government would help with reforms to the planning process to fast-track applications, he said.
Britain's announcement follows a growing trend towards nuclear power around the world.
At present, about 16 per cent of the world's electricity comes from nuclear power.
In the European Union, the average figure is 30 per cent, rising to 75 per cent in France and 55 per cent in Belgium. About 440 nuclear reactors are operational globally, with a further 28 under construction and another 62 planned.