The UK’s desire to become a nuclear powerhouse has hit a huge bump in the road as plans for the Sizewell C plant in Suffolk, which could one day provide low-carbon power for six million homes, are under review and are even at risk of being delayed or abandoned entirely. The nuclear project, which if it goes ahead could provide seven percent of the UK’s total electricity needs, is a pivotal aspect of the UK’s drive for a nuclear revolution and an important part of the energy strategy unveiled in April to establish a path to energy independence, free from the clutches of Vladimir Putin and volatile global gas markets.
But the proposed 3.2-gigawatt plant, which the Government first announced plans for way back in 2009, could be axed as Westminster mulls over spending cuts to fill the black hole in Treasury finances.
A Government official told the BBC: “We are reviewing every major project – including Sizewell C.”
The plant was set to be developed by France’s state-owned EDF and finally got given the green light back in July. Westminster had pledged to provide a £700million cash injection for the project in September, although this is just a drop in the ocean compared to the total cost of the project.
While current plans mean it won’t start operating until the 2030s, a further delay would add fury to the fire for critics who have long argued that the plant is too costly and will take too long to build.
The total cost of the plant is around £20billion and is no doubt a costly endeavor, but amid an energy crisis, this appears to be one of those “tough” decisions Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt may decide to take as they scramble to balance the books.
Science writer and founder of Emergency Reactor Zion Lights tweeted: “We are in an energy crisis and facing blackouts this winter but instead of thinking ahead to energy security the UK Government is now thinking of scrapping Sizewell C. This is why nuclear is slow to build in the UK. What will it take for them to learn?”
But according to Stop Sizewell C, which has long been campaigning for the nuclear project to be scrapped, ditching the project would be an easy way for the Government to shore up some extra funding.
The campaign group said last week: “The Chancellor has said that eye-wateringly difficult decisions are needed so it’s right that eye-watering expensive projects go under the microscope.
“Sizewell C can only offer short term pain – with more money on our energy bills – for long term pain, with huge uncertainty about cost and time to deliver electricity that is far more expensive than renewables. There is no way Sizewell C offers the hard-stretched public purse value for money. Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt should invest in a major energy efficiency drive that would create many thousands of green jobs, and within a very few years deliver real savings on household bills instead of increasing them through the nuclear stealth tax.”
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“Can the UK really rely on a company with such mammoth domestic difficulties to stay on budget and on target, when they have never done so before?”
But the plant, which would be a “replica” of the Hinkley Point C plant that is currently under construction in Somerset, has also been hailed as a “one of the UK’s most important green infrastructure projects ever”.
Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Sizewell C will be one of the UK’s most important green infrastructure projects ever, and critical to the government’s plan to strengthen energy security, cut gas use and bring down bills, so this joint statement is very welcome.
“The UK needs to urgently get on with building new nuclear capacity alongside renewables, and it’s now important that a Final Investment Decision on Sizewell is reached swiftly so construction can begin.”
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It came after French President Emmanuel Macron and former Prime Minister Liz Truss both pledged their “full support” for the project during a meeting in Prague.
Spokespersons for the two leaders said in a joint statement: “Energy transition and decoupling from Russian hydro-carbons are common challenges. They reaffirmed their belief that both renewable and nuclear energies are part of consistent strategies to achieve energy transition and strategic autonomy”.
But now, the new reactor located around 30 miles north-east of Ipswich is in doubt as the Treasury looks for ways to cut spending after the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned of a £60 billion financial black-hole in the Government’s finances last month.
However, Mr Sunak has also said that he is committed to ensuring that the UK addresses the issue of energy security amid the crisis that has seen bills soar for millions of households, with nuclear power being an important aspect of achieving this.
He said during Prime Minister’s Questions: “The important thing is to focus on our long-term energy security. That means more renewables, more offshore wind and indeed more nuclear. That’s what this government wants.”