Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has granted development consent for the Sizewell C nuclear power station on the coast of Suffolk, overruling the recommendations of the Planning Inspectorate on the grounds the power plant is set to play a critical part in decarbonising the UK’s economy.
The two-reactor plant, mainly funded by the French company EDF, is expected to cost in the region of £20bn to build and supply roughly seven per cent of the UK’s electricity needs once operational.
A decision on planning approval for the project, which secured £100m of government funding earlier this year, was previously scheduled for 25 May but had been delayed twice to give the Secretary of State more time to review information on the project.
Over the decade since it was first proposed, Sizewell C has faced fierce opposition from campaigners who maintain it represents an ineffective use of public funds and would harm the local environment, including a nearby nature reserve.
Earlier this year, the Planning Inspectorate also raised the alarm about the project’s environmental impacts, with the body warning Kwarteng in a report that “unless the outstanding water supply strategy can be resolved”, the case for granting consent was “not made out”.
But in a decision letter published on the Planning Inspector website this afternoon, Kwarteng said the “very substantial and urgent need” for the plant outweighed the harms that would result.
“The Secretary of State agrees that the Proposed Development will make a very substantial contribution towards meeting the national [energy] need … and the substantial contribution it would make in terms of the delivery of low carbon energy, ultimately assisting with the decarbonisation of the economy in line with the UK’s legal obligations in the Paris Agreement 7 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Climate Change Act 2008,” the letter states.
The RSBP said it was reviewing the reasons for the decision and considering its options for appealing against the approval, with chief executive Beccy Speight dubbing the decision to move ahead with the “ludicrous” scheme.
“We are dismayed that the decision by this interim government goes against the advice of the Examiners and their own experts in this matter,” she said. “The construction of the proposed development will be damaging and it has been granted with insufficient consideration for the effects on nature as described by the governments own experts. This is a ludicrous decision for an interim government to make.”
Campaigners now have six weeks to decide whether to appeal against the Secretary of State’s decision.
Chinese nuclear company CGN was involved in the project in its first phase, but it is understood the UK government is aiming to edge the state-backed firm out of the deal through a plan – announced earlier this year – to purchase an 20 per cent option in Sizewell C’s holding company, amid concerns about Chinese government involvement in strategic UK assets.
The UK government has made a commitment to reaching a final investment decision on at least one large-scale nuclear power station this Parliament, as part of plans to rapidly expand the UK’s fleet of nuclear generators so as to bolster energy security and decarbonise the electricity grid .
To deliver on a target to make final investment decisions on eight nuclear assets by the end of this end of this government, the government is in the process of finalizing a new funding model for nuclear generators that aims to bring down the costs of new projects, which have historically been exorbitantly high.
The Sizewell C project is anticipated to be the first nuclear project to use the planned Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model, which is also designed to attract private investment into strategic public projects.
The news comes in the same week the French government announced it planned to fully nationalise EDF, amid fears about the electricity giant’s growing debt position.
The French state already controls an 84 per cent stake in EDF, the firm behind the much-delayed Hinkley Point C nuclear plant that has been under construction in Somerset for half a decade.