Environment

Government confirms £700m for Sizewell C nuclear power plant amid mixed reaction

A £700m investment into a nuclear power plant development has been met with mixed reactions from Labour unions and environmentalists.

sizewell B power station in Suffolk

The new £20bn Sizewell C nuclear power plant will be based next to Sizewell B, which opened in 1995.

The UK government has confirmed a £700m stake into the Sizewell C nuclear power plant, but critics say that the project is expensive and hazardous to the environment.

A leading union welcomed the announcement, however, which would also create 10,000 jobs, insisting “without nuclear there can be no net zero”.

The project, which will be built in Suffolk next to the existing power station Sizewell B, has faced backlash from campaigners who say that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power would be a better investment than nuclear power. 

Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said: “The launch of Great British Nuclear [a governmental body set up solely to drive the UK’s nuclear energy goals forward] is clearly ironic as new nuclear is neither great nor British.

“It’s hard to work out what drives the government’s enthusiasm for new nuclear. It‘s not cheap, or clean, or necessary as there are better, quicker and less expensive options to deliver electricity.”

The estimated £20bn plant could end up generating 7 per cent of the UK’s total electricity needs, according to the BBC. 

Nuclear power is often touted as a solution to the global energy and climate crises, and is a major part of the UK’s energy strategy. However, it has long been criticised for being expensive and hazardous, as well as not being a quick enough solution. 

Research by the University of Greenwich published by The Guardian suggests that Sizewell C will take between 15 and 17 years to build, but many activists believe the government needs to decrease the country’s reliance on fossil fuels much more quickly. The government is aiming to meet its net zero target by 2050.

Nuclear energy costs at least three times as much as wind or solar power to build, according to analysis by financial services company Lazard, which does not take into account waste management, security, and accident prevention. 

 The government’s own data shows that renewable energy is a more cost-effective method to lower the country’s carbon footprint and provide reliable energy. Generating nuclear power also produces radioactive waste that can become hazardous to the local environment.

Parr added that renewable energy sources would be cheaper than nuclear energy and “has the added benefit of not creating millennia of worry over the nuclear waste that future generations will end up dealing with.”

Jenny Kirtley, chair of Together Against Sizewell C, a local pressure group campaigning against the development, said that the project was the result of a “delusional, nuclear-obsessed government” who are pretending that “its energy policy will allow us to meet climate change targets.” The group has submitted a judicial review over the approval of the project, stating that the decision was unlawful.

Ministers are pushing ahead with the project and say that the plant, developed by French energy company EDF, would create over 10,000 jobs, provide power to six million homes for at least 50 years, and would provide energy security for the entire country.

Labour unions and environmentalists have long fought for a ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels creating new green jobs in the energy sector and pathways for workers to move out of fossil fuel industries. 

Charlotte Brumpton-Childs, national officer for union GMB, said the “announcement is a long overdue step in the right direction” towards net-zero while EDF’s website states that Sizewell C is “vital to net zero strategy,” and will “avoid around nine million tonnes of carbon emissions each year compared to a gas-fired power station.”

Energy Secretary Grant Schapps, who visited the Suffolk coast to mark the occasion, said the nation needed “British energy for British homes,” particularly in light of record high gas prices partially stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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