By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website
Three of the proposed sites are in and around Sellafield
The government has released a list of 11 sites in England and Wales where new nuclear power stations could be built.
The locations were nominated by companies interested in building the stations, and the government has given its initial approval to the sites.
Nine of the locations have previously had nuclear reactors, and the other two are close to Sellafield in Cumbria.
A month-long public consultation period now commences. The government wants the first reactors operational by 2018.
The nomination and approval process did not involve sites in Scotland or Northern Ireland because planning is a devolved issue.
The Scottish government opposes building new nuclear power stations.
But the UK government maintains it is necessary to close a looming "generation gap" because existing nuclear and coal-fired stations close.
"This is another important step towards a new generation of nuclear power stations," Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Miliband said.
"I want to listen to what people have to say about these nominations and I encourage people to log on to our website, read the information and let us have their comments."
The sites were nominated by the companies EDF, E.On and RWE, and by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which owns the sites of the UK's older generation of Magnox reactors, many of which have ceased operating.
The NDA is currently auctioning land on these sites, with EDF and E.On among the bidders.
NOMINATED NUCLEAR SITES
Hinckley Point, Somerset
Oldbury, South Gloucestershire
Wylfa, north Wales
By 2018, the Magnox fleet and most of the newer advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) will have come out of service, leaving the UK with just four operational nuclear stations.
Reasons why companies have nominated sites with existing nuclear capacity include the presence of grid connections and a community used to living with nuclear stations and the employment they provide.
In Anglesey, where the existing Wylfa station is scheduled to close next year, the council is actively lobbying for a replacement.
But in Oldbury in South Gloucestershire, a survey two years ago showed a majority of people wanted the site returned to nature rather than used for new generation capacity.
The two proposed locations that were not involved in the Magnox or AGR programmes are Kirksanton and Braystones, both close to Sellafield in Cumbria, which has the longest nuclear history of any UK community.
Many environmental groups remain unconvinced that the UK needs a nuclear renaissance.
"We believe the government must make the right efforts to pursue a low-carbon economy, and we believe nuclear doesn't have a role in that - in fact, it's a big obstacle," said Nathan Argent, head of Greenpeace's anti-nuclear campaign.
Environment groups would prefer the government to focus on renewables
"We will continue to lobby the government to meet its legally binding targets on renewables, and to make sure it gets an energy efficiency programme up and running, which also has major potential for job creation," he told BBC News.
After the month-long public consultation, the government will publish a draft nuclear National Policy Statement (NPS) in the late summer or early autumn.
The NPS should be finalised next year. Part of its aim is to remove the scope for campaigners to prolong public enquiries by raising questions over the safety of, or need for, nuclear power.
Companies wanting to pursue new build will still have to take their plans through an application process run by the Infrastructure Planning Commission, a new government agency that will begin operations later this year.
Industry sources suggest the number of new stations constructed in the first tranche is likely to be substantially fewer than 11.
Building five, with two reactors apiece, is suggested as a likely scenario to meet the immediate target of replenishing the nuclear portfolio.
However, if the government decides to follow the low-carbon roadmap that its Committee on Climate Change published in December, this initial set of new stations will be the first of several.
The committee wants low-carbon electricity to power a substantial proportion of transport, including 40% of new cars sold by 2020, and to provide some of the space heating currently fuelled by burning gas and coal.
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