Ministers hope that nuclear plant building will start by 2013
The next generation of nuclear power stations could be built in flood-risk or "environmentally protected" areas, the government has said.
Such concerns would form part of a "balanced view" of a site's suitability rather than instantly ruling it out, Business Secretary John Hutton said.
But sites in heavily populated areas or at risk of earthquake damage would be dismissed as possibilities, he added.
The government wants to publish a list of proposed venues by 2010.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown is believed to want the early go ahead for up to eight new reactors as part of a global "renaissance of nuclear power" to help end reliance on fossil fuels.
Under the Strategic Siting Assessment system proposed by Mr Hutton, nominations for "credible" sites will be invited early next year.
Those at risk of earthquake or near heavily populated areas would be instantly ruled out according to the planned rules - due to be finalised in the next few months.
Environmental safeguards are listed among "discretionary" criteria ministers will use to decide.
Such concerns would be considered "less absolute" and would be used to "to form a balanced view of the site's suitability" for inclusion on a list of "strategically suitable" venues.
But a Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform spokesman said anyone nominating a location would be required to "confirm that they can protect the site against flood-risk throughout the lifetime of the site, including the potential effects of climate change".
They would also have to "outline the countermeasures they would take to protect the site from flood risk, as far as practicable" under the proposals, the spokesman added. Failure to do so could lead to it being deemed unsuitable.
The government hopes building work can start as early as 2013, with the first electricity being produced four years later.
Mr Hutton said: "Nuclear power is an essential part of our future energy mix. And, alongside a 10-fold increase in renewables and investment in clean coal technology, it will help wean us off our dependency on oil and protect us against the politicisation of energy supplies.
"So, we must do everything we can to remove any remaining barriers and open up the UK as the most attractive place in the world to invest in nuclear power.
"The strategic siting assessment is the next step towards a Nuclear National Policy Statement. This will help to speed up planning applications while making clear that safety and engagement with local communities are key."
Details of a planned environmental assessment of project have also been published, promising to examine "the likely significant effects on the environment including biodiversity, population and human health, fauna and flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, cultural heritage including architectural and archaeological heritage and landscape".
The government dismissed reports earlier this month that it had already drawn up a list of sites alongside existing reactors - including Sizewell, Hartlepool, Heysham, Dungeness, Hinkley Point, and Bradwell - as the most suitable places.
In January, ministers announced that they backed new plants and published a review of possible sites where there have been nuclear power plants before.
All new reactors would be built and run by private companies.
The Conservatives say they will back the government's plan, as long as there is no public subsidy.
The Liberal Democrats oppose the proposals, calling instead for more focus on renewable energy forms.
Campaign group Greenpeace argues that nuclear power is dirty, inefficient and dangerous.
It says even 10 new reactors would cut the UK's carbon emissions by only about 4% some time after 2025.