Sizewell C nuclear power station project receives government go-ahead
Image credit: EDF Energy
The UK government has given the green light to a multi-billion-pound project to build a new nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast.
The UK is going ahead with the construction of the Sizewell C nuclear power plant, expected to generate enough low-carbon electricity to supply six million homes and create thousands of jobs.
The new plant would be built next to the existing Sizewell B, which is still generating electricity, and Sizewell A, which has been decommissioned, according to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
The project is expected to cost around £20bn and will mainly be funded by the French energy company EDF. However, Kwarteng confirmed the government will make all future planning decisions on the two-reactor plant, as it is deemed a nationally significant infrastructure project.
“Sizewell C will be one of the UK’s largest-ever green energy projects, and this decision significantly strengthens the pipeline of new nuclear capacity in Britain,” said Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association.
Once operative, Sizewell C is expected to generate 3.2 gigawatts (GW) of electricity − about 7 per cent of the UK's electricity needs − and operate for 60 years.
Despite the green light, negotiations with the government on raising funds for the project are still ongoing, and a Financial Investment Decision is expected in 2023. So far, the government has committed £100m to develop the project and is planning to take a 20 per cent stake in the plant.
The application for the plant was first submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in May 2020, but the decision was delayed due to the pandemic. Two years later, the nuclear industry has welcomed the government's decision as a “vital step forward” for energy security.
“I am delighted that, after months of careful consideration, the Government has given planning consent for Sizewell C," said Carly Vince, Sizewell C’s chief planning officer. “Sizewell C will be good for the region, creating thousands of opportunities for local people and businesses. It will boost local biodiversity and leave a legacy Suffolk can be proud of.”
The company has also stated that the project will contribute to lowering energy costs for bill-payers, help boost the country's energy security and support the route towards net-zero.
However, campaigners have criticised the move, which they said went against the recommendation of the planning inspectorate regarding the need to resolve issues on water supplies and nature. The plant would be built next to the RSPB's Minsmere nature reserve, and could therefore have a negative effect on the avocets, bitterns, marsh harriers, otters and other species that live in the area.
In its report, the Examining Authority said it recommended that “unless the outstanding water supply strategy can be resolved and sufficient information provided to enable the secretary of state to carry out his obligations under the Habitats Regulations, the case for an Order granting development consent for the application is not made out”.
Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, branded it a “ludicrous decision for an interim government to take” and representatives of the campaign Stop Sizewell C claimed people in the local area were "devastated" by the decision.
"We are going to continue challenging this project because of technical concerns, impacts on the environment, the investors, the fact that households are going to have to pay, the huge expense and potential for massive delays," Alison Downes, a member of the group, told the BBC.
“Sizewell C represents all that’s been wrong about energy policy," added Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr. “A nuclear company, saddled with problems, from failing reactors to having to be nationalised, is getting a stitched-up deal behind closed doors leading to extra costs on energy bills, unmanageable waste for future generations and an expensive white elephant project. That it’s trashing an important nature reserve is an unwanted bonus."
The campaigners have called upon the government to focus its funding on "cheaper, cleaner and more reliable" renewable projects.
The UK government plans to completely decarbonise the country's electricity by 2035.
Although nuclear is one of the greenest forms of energy there are still some emissions associated with manufacturing the steel and other materials needed. All but one of the UK's existing nuclear power plants are due to reach the end of their operational life by 2030.
By 2050, it is expected that up to 25 per cent of the country's energy usage (24GW) would be generated from nuclear, while the remaining 75 per cent would come from other forms of renewable or low-carbon energy such as offshore wind or solar.
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