Reaction: Government gives Sizewell C a £100m cash injection

Alison Downes, Stop Sizewell C said: “It’s extraordinary that the government would give Sizewell C financial backing when the problems at Taishan raise legitimate questions about whether EDF’s EPR reactor works safely. Any direct government support seems to compromise the role of the Secretary of State in determining the Sizewell C planning application. We fail to understand why the UK is bailing out crisis-hit EDF, and why the government is so committed to poor value large scale nuclear when there are other, better options.”

Current status of Sizewell C project and why it is not a done deal

1. The case against: We oppose EDF’s twin reactor project because it is the wrong project in the wrong place and will not help the UK achieve its objectives. Reasons include but not limited to:

2. Summary of Recent Developments.

  • Taishan I EPR (China) remains offline with fuel damage. France’s nuclear regulator admits vibration may be a cause. EDF has financial and operational difficulties in France. (See 3a)

  • A Sizewell C regulated asset base would add a ‘tax’ to energy bills at a time when these are rising, yet renewable levies might be removed. HMG has still not published evidence to back its claim that Sizewell C would add about £1/month to bills. (3b)

  • A debate within the EU continues to rage about whether nuclear should be labelled “green” or “sustainable”. A HMT consultation on UK taxonomy is expected very soon. (3b)

  • The exposure by MI5 of Christine Lee and her role in promoting China’s contentious involvement in the UK nuclear programme may be the tip of the iceberg.

  • The size of EDF’s planning application and 22 changes has forced the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to request six more weeks, pushing the consent deadline to May. (3c)

3. Why Sizewell C is still not a done deal.

a) Problems with the EPR reactor. At a recent press conference, ASN appeared to confirm vibrations are recognised as an issue in the Taishan EPR. A mooted “fix” of making fuel assemblies more robust acknowledges there is an inherent problem, but addresses the symptoms rather than the cause. On 24 January the ONR, in a reply to a FoI request, [available on request] told Stop Sizewell C they hoped to meet French and Chinese regulators at the end of January, adding “modifications, if required, can be made to the fuel assemblies at Hinkley Point C, as it is still some time before fuel is procured, manufactured and delivered to site. We will only allow fuel to be delivered to site and loaded into the reactor if it is demonstrated that the reactors can operate safely and if any learning has been adequately understood and addressed.”

EDF’s woes in France have escalated with more reactor outages reducing supply, and an official order to sell power at below cost to competitors; measures that could set EDF back €8.6bn.

b) Finance & Taxonomy. The autumn Budget 2021 committed £1.7 billion of direct funding to get a large scale project to Final Investment Decision (FID) within this parliament. The Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill, designed to allow large scale nuclear projects use of a Regulated Asset Base or RAB funding model (a tax on consumers to give investors an immediate financial return during construction) passed the House of Commons on 10 January and is now in the House of Lords. Secondary legislation will be required for Sizewell C. Stop Sizewell C is calling for an independent impact assessment of any deal struck before it is contractually binding.

The RAB model remains controversial, with almost 100,000 people opposing it. With the Platform on Sustainable Finance urging the European Commission to concede that nuclear energy is not sustainable, a Treasury-led UK consultation on the taxonomy of nuclear energy is expected soon. Even if RAB is approved and “green” rules abused to label nuclear as green, it does not guarantee that investors will come forward. Stop Sizewell C has secured statements from Legal and General, Abrdn, Prudential, Nest, Standard Life and others who do not plan to invest in Sizewell C.

c) Planning. With so many unresolved issues, including EDF’s short and long term potable water supply and concerns around coastal defences, it is likely that – even if the Secretary of State gave Sizewell C planning consent – it would be subject to multiple conditions, which would be difficult to monitor, especially with the reported resource and management constraints facing the Environment Agency. Even now EDF is applying for planning permission from East Suffolk Council to conduct soil and anchor trials, to see if the site can be stabilised during construction of a 50m deep cut-off wall and take the weight of the proposed coastal defences.

PINS’ request for more time to prepare its recommendations cited “the size and scale of proposal and application, the 22 change requests, the policy context and personal impact regarding the Examining Authority’s health and wellbeing”. BEIS’s reply criticised PINS for eroding “developer confidence” in planning timelines, yet just a week before BEIS deferred by 3 months the decision on another Suffolk NSIP – EA1N & 2 offshore windfarms and onshore infrastructure at Friston.

d) Alternatives. Rolls Royce is seeking bids for a manufacturing site for its Small Modular Reactors and aims to have four online within 10 years, before Sizewell C. At 470MW and costing £2 billion, they would provide 1/6 of the energy for 1/10 of the price of Sizewell C. Kwasi Kwarteng told a recent Suffolk business lunch that one more gigawatt project was necessary to maintain nuclear industry skills. [Contemporaneous notes]. With HInkley C under construction, Rolls Royce’s development gathering pace, new nuclear deterrent submarines to build and Sizewell B still operating, there will be plenty of work to keep them busy.

e) Local opposition: BEIS is well aware of opposition in Suffolk. Last January, Kwasi Kwarteng said “The way in which EDF engages with the local community, particularly in Sizewell C – if that’s the one that gets the green light – is really important because in all of these issues there are always two sides. The onus is on the company developing the project to bring as many people as possible with them.” Addressing Suffolk business leaders in November he said “I know many people here are concerned about Sizewell C” and acknowledged that there were “more amenable” sites. [contemporaneous notes].

Stop Sizewell C is a campaign group on the frontline of the Sizewell C project.