UK Government Backs First Nuclear Plant in 35 Years
As it works to reduce its contribution to the climate crisis and ensure energy independence, the UK will move forward with a new nuclear power plant in Suffolk, England–the first government-backed nuclear installation in 35 years.
The UK government’s support for the plant was first announced during the chancellor’s autumn statement earlier this month and confirmed in a Tuesday announcement from Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps.
“Global gas prices are at record highs, caused by Putin’s illegal march on Ukraine. We need more clean, affordable power generated within our borders — British energy for British homes,” Shapps said in a statement. “Today’s historic deal giving government backing to Sizewell C’s development is crucial to this, moving us towards greater energy independence and away from the risks that a reliance on volatile global energy markets for our supply comes with.”
The ultimate fate of the planned two-reactor Sizewell C nuclear power plant had been unclear after the government first approved it in July under then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as BBC News reported. However, rumors circulated that the project was under review, though the government denied it. It was controversial in part because the government had at one point looked for funds from China General Nuclear, an idea that soured alongside relations between the two countries, The Guardian reported.
Then, in mid-November, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said in his autumn statement that the government would back the new plant with a £700 million investment, as The Guardian reported at the time. This investment was confirmed in Tuesday’s announcement. It means that China General Nuclear is no longer involved with the project and is the first direct government investment in a nuclear project since Sizewell B was approved in 1987.
“Today’s investment in Sizewell C represents the biggest step on our journey to energy independence — the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years. Once complete, this mega project will power millions of homes with clean, affordable, home-grown energy for decades to come,” Hunt said Tuesday.
The plant will be built by French energy company EDF, with the British government and the French company each acting as 50 percent shareholders. EDF is also constructing the delayed Hinkley Point C in Somerset, England. However, EDF CEO Simone Rossi said the two plants would use the same design, meaning it should be easier to predict the costs and timeline of the second plant.
The government said that the new plant would generate 10,000 skilled jobs and enough low-carbon power to fuel six million homes for more than 50 years. Its planned 3.2 gigawatts of capacity equals 10 percent of the UK’s current energy demand, according to The Guardian. And the government says this will only be the first of a “pipeline of new nuclear” developed by a new body to be named Great British Nuclear.
Despite its status as a low-carbon energy source, however, nuclear power remains controversial with environmental groups due to its cost and the question of waste disposal.
“[There are] better, quicker and less expensive options to deliver electricity,” Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said, as The Guardian reported.