The company that runs the nuclear reactors at Hunterston in North Ayrshire is warning that their safety could be jeopardised by plans to build a huge coal-fired power station next door.

EDF Energy says that the construction and operation of the controversial new plant could block the evacuation routes of staff and deprive its site of electricity and vital cooling water in an emergency. It is also worried that discharges from the coal plant could compromise reactor cooling systems.

The French nuclear company has lodged a formal objection to an application by Ayrshire Power to build a £3 billion coal station at Hunterston. Following rejection of the application, which attracted more than 20,000 objections, by North Ayrshire Council in November, the Scottish Government has now confirmed that it will go to a public inquiry later this year.

Ayrshire Power insisted that it remained "totally committed" to progressing its plans for Hunterston. The company's project director, Muir Miller, said: "We are in ongoing dialogue with EDF Energy and believe that all of the matters raised by them can be addressed at the appropriate time."

A spokeswoman for EDF Energy confirmed that it had raised a number of concerns that would not be addressed until the technical design has been finalised. "This is still the case," she said. "It is too early say what, if any, response we will make to any public inquiry."