The UK government is funding a new early warning system to stop swarms of jellyfish shutting down Britain's nuclear power plants.

The swarms, technically known as blooms, can block filters on pipes which suck water out of the sea to cool reactors, potentially forcing the whole plant to shut down. Even minor disruptions to water flow can cut electrical output.

Jellyfish have already forced closures at Scotland's Torness power plant and experts fear other UK installations could be affected. More jellyfish are now being seen around the UK due to changes in sea temperature and overfishing of predators. Unless movements are monitored, scientists believe there will be more shutdowns, potential blackouts, and possibly higher electricity bills. Energy companies lose £1 million for each day a plant is closed and will seek to recoup losses from consumers.Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, will this week announce a £383,000 grant to tackle the threat.

He said: 'Despite being one of the ocean's simplest organisms, jellyfish can cause severe damage to power stations, which is why we are funding British inventors to protect this valuable industry.'

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The cash will be used to develop a system to sit on the seabed near nuclear plants and give advance warning of an invasion. It is a joint project by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the University of East Anglia and EDF Energy.

Brian Robinson, nuclear programme director at CEFAS, said: 'A sonar acoustic device sends a signal to a jellyfish swarm, which comes back to us as an echo.

'Our system will give operators early warning of approaching jellyfish blooms so they can take preventative measures to minimise unplanned shutdowns and loss of power to consumers.

'Plants need constant supplies of water to cool scorching reactor rods and pipes, and the inlet pipes are vulnerable to being blocked.'

Nuclear plants in California, Israel, Japan, France and Sweden have been shut down by jellyfish. The most common marauders are Moon jellyfish, umbrella-shaped, translucent creatures that grow up to 16 inches wide. Another troublemaker is the comb jelly or sea gooseberry.

Sightings of jellyfish around the UK this year are the highest since records were begun ten years ago by the Marine Conservation Society. Data is still being collated but sightings are over 1,500 compared to 1,133 last year. For each sighting there are thousands undetected.

Dr Peter Richardson, the society's biodiversity manager, said: 'I hope the new jellyfish monitoring technology can also be extended for use across UK waters, so we can find out precisely where the huge blooms are occurring.'

- Mail on Sunday