The Government has opened talks with energy firm EDF on the construction of the £20billion Sizewell C nuclear power station, which could generate enough electricity for around 7 per cent of the UK’s power demand.
The site in Suffolk would be a near replica of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, which is Britain’s first new nuclear plant in more than two decades and is already being built by the French energy firm with backing from China’s CGN.
The Government said it would enter into negotiations with EDF – but any deal must be affordable and provide value for money, with the project having already proven controversial with protesters slamming its huge cost.
The Stop Sizewell C campaign group which was formed seven years ago has warned the site will divert investment from other green energy sources such as renewables and would damage tourism and nature in the area.
But EDF claim it will generate enough ‘always-on’ low-carbon electricity to power six million homes and create 25,000 jobs. The energy firm is currently applying for planning permission for the 3.2-gigawatt plant.
The government has opened talks with EDF over the construction of the £20 billion Sizewell C (lighter grey on the right, next to Sizewell B) nuclear plant in Suffolk.
The site in Suffolk would be a near replica of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, pictured being constructed in September
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, told BBC News: ‘When renewables costs are plummeting, it’s madness to waste £20billion on another nuclear white elephant. It will leave consumers with higher bills, destroy important habitats and unlikely to be online till the late 2030s.’
In a statement, the Government said the discussions with EDF are part of its ‘options to enable investment in at least one nuclear power station by the end of this Parliament’.
It came as the Government put forward its Energy White Paper, which outlines plans for a clean energy system it said will support 220,000 jobs in the next 10 years.
Business and Energy Secretary Alok Sharma said: ‘Today’s plan establishes a decisive and permanent shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels, towards cleaner energy sources that will put our country at the forefront of the global green industrial revolution.
‘Through a major programme of investment and reform, we are determined to both decarbonise our economy in the most cost-effective way, while creating new sunrise industries and revitalising our industrial heartlands that will support new green jobs for generations to come.
‘At every step of the way, we will place affordability and fairness at the heart of our reforms – unleashing a wave of competition so consumers get the best deals possible on their bills, while protecting the vulnerable and fuel-poor with additional financial support.’
But he stressed that EDF has not yet been given a ‘green light’ for construction. ‘We are starting negotiations with EDF, which would be the developer at Sizewell C,’ Mr Sharma told BBC Radio 4.
‘What this is not is a green light on the construction, so what we will be doing is looking to see whether we can reach an investment decision in this parliament on that particular project.
‘We will only do so if this delivers value for money for taxpayers and consumers.’
Alison Downes from the Stop Sizewell C group said today: ‘As Alok Sharma said, this is not a green light to build Sizewell C and the idea that it could provide value for money is ‘pie in the sky’.
‘Costing at least £20billion, Sizewell C remains too slow and expensive to help our climate emergency, and both the government and any pension funds considering the project must beware the reputational risk of investing in a still unproven reactor design that even the French are abandoning, to be constructed on an eroding coastline, neighbouring the world famous Minsmere reserve.’
But Simone Rossi, EDF’s UK chief executive, said: ‘We’re right behind net zero and, by investing in renewables and nuclear at Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, we’re supporting decarbonisation while creating jobs across the UK.
‘We will continue to help our customers find affordable, low-carbon ways to travel and heat their homes and businesses. The time for action is now and we look forward to working with the Government to implement its energy and climate policies, including the financing of new nuclear.’
Business Secretary Alok Sharma meets Imperial College staff at a carbon capture lab in an undated photo released today
Sizewell B is a nuclear power station located on the Suffolk coast, which is Britain’s only pressurised water reactor
Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive at Energy UK, said: ‘Today’s White Paper reveals the scale and opportunity of the energy transition, with aims in it to at least double the amount of clean electricity produced today, start making our homes warmer and greener, and help the switch to electric vehicles.
‘The energy industry will do our bit to innovate, supporting our customers so that they benefit from the net zero transition and investing in the green infrastructure we need – but clear policies from government help us do that.
‘This is what the White Paper – and other publications over the next year – should provide.’
The White Paper will outline moves to deliver the pledge to develop 40 gigawatts of offshore wind, including floating wind turbines, and invest £1 billion in technology to capture and store carbon emissions underground.
There will also be details on investing £1.3billion to accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle charging points in homes, streets and motorways, and measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes and move away from fossil fuel boilers.
Consumers will be offered a simple method of switching to a cheaper energy tariff, and testing automatically switching customers to fairer deals to tackle ‘loyalty penalties’, the Government said.
The White Paper will also include measures on establishing a new UK emissions trading scheme, which the Government said will be more ambitious than the current EU scheme it replaces.
In a statement, which also set out its Energy White Paper, the Government said: ‘This is the next step in considering the Sizewell C project, and negotiations will be subject to reaching a value-for-money deal and all other relevant approvals, before any final decision is taken on whether to proceed.
‘The successful conclusion of these negotiations will be subject to thorough scrutiny and needs to satisfy the Government’s robust legal, regulatory and national security requirements.’
The White Paper set out plans to transition to net zero emissions by 2050.
Sizewell C will provide 900 skilled jobs over its operating lifetime and support UK energy resilience by meeting seven percent of its demand for electricity, thus reducing the need for imports, EDF said.
Today’s update comes after it was revealed that China was considering pulling out of the Sizewell C nuclear plant.
The country’s nuclear agency, China General Nuclear Power (CGN), is planning to duck out of the next phase of the £20billion project, claim industry sources.
The change in power supply since 1998 is shown in a graphic, released as part of the Government’s Energy White Paper today
Analysis shows electricity demand could double by 2050, with power displacing petrol/diesel in cars and gas for heating. The difference in demand scenarios is driven mostly by how much electricity replaces gas for heating or petrol/diesel in cars
CGN holds a 20 per cent stake in the Suffolk plant and has spent years developing it with EDF.
The agency has not revealed how much it has invested in the Sizewell C development phase, though it is estimated to be hundreds of millions.
Its departure at the construction stage could leave a huge hole in the project’s funding – and could deal another body blow to the Government’s energy strategy.
The reports come as tensions between London and Beijing have flared since the Government’s decision to exclude Huawei’s equipment being used in new 5G networks.
The recent clampdown on foreign investment and takeover rules have also added to the hostility.
An industry source said: ‘If the UK were to lose Chinese know-how in nuclear it would be a shame given their expertise in building and operating the reactors that would be used at Sizewell C.’
Economy-wide analysis has suggested deep ‘decarbonisation’ in most sectors, such as through electrification. The final 5 per cent are based on the hardest to decarbonise elements of aviation, agricultural, industry and buildings
This graphic, also in the Government’s Energy White Paper, shows the electricity mix today and illustrative mixes for 2050
EDF submitted proposals for Sizewell C in 2012 and CGN signed on as a partner in 2016.
The pair are also working together on Hinkley Point C and on plans for another plant in Bradwell, Essex.
They had been hoping to start building Sizewell C in early 2022. It is estimated the plant could create 25,000 jobs and the Sizewell C consortium, a group of businesses and unions, have said it is crucial for supporting the nuclear industry’s supply chain and preserving skills learnt at Hinkley Point C.
The Government is under pressure to unveil a detailed strategy for the nuclear industry as a number of plants come offline in the early 2020s amid fears the UK could suffer blackouts by the early 2030s.
Ambitious plans have so far fallen flat and of six sites earmarked for new sites to replace the ageing nuclear fleet more than a decade ago only one, Hinkley Point C, is being built.
The latest of a string of setbacks came in September, when Japanese group Hitachi pulled out of the Wylfa project on Anglesey in North Wales.
Britain, which will host the UN’s next major climate summit COP26 in the Scottish city of Glasgow next year, announced the EDF talks in its Energy White Paper.