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Government considers taking stake in Sizewell

15 Dec 20 The UK government is considering taking the place of the Chinese government as a partner in the £20bn Sizewell C nuclear power project.

The planned Sizewell C nucelar power station in Suffolk
The planned Sizewell C nucelar power station in Suffolk

The UK government has confirmed that it is to enter negotiations with EDF, the French state energy company, in relation to the Sizewell C project in Suffolk, in which EDF is the majority shareholder.

China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CNG) owns 33% of the Hinkley Point C plant, under construction in Somerset, and 20% of Sizewell. However British government attitudes to Communist China taking control of essential UK infrastructure have shifted somewhat since the days of Cameron and Osborne courted the Yuan.

The disclosure of plans for a possible state investment in new nuclear power came with an energy white paper, setting out the Johnson government’s energy policies.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is exploring financing options for new nuclear with developers including the regulated asset base (RAB) funding model, which could help secure private investment and cost consumers less in the long run, it says.

“Given the scale of the financing challenge, we will also consider the potential role of government finance during construction, provided there is clear value for money for consumers and taxpayers”, BEIS said. “This is the next step in considering the Sizewell C project, and negotiations will be subject to reaching a value for money deal and all other relevant approvals, before any final decision is taken on whether to proceed. The successful conclusion of these negotiations will be subject to thorough scrutiny and needs to satisfy the government’s robust legal, regulatory and national security requirements.”

Sizewell C will be a near replica of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, comprising a pair of 1670MWe European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) units. The application for a development consent order (DCO) was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in May 2020

Called Powering our net zero future, the energy white paper broadly sets out how the UK power supply will be “overwhelmingly decarbonised” in the 2030s and emission-free by 2050 by transforming the UK’s energy system from one that was historically based on fossil fuels to one based on harnessing energy supplies.

For the construction industry, this means infrastructure projects for power generation, carbon capture storage and hydrogen, as well as a major programme of retrofitting homes for improved energy efficiency and clean heat.

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Plans include investing £1bn in carbon capture storage in four industrial clusters by 2030. Four low carbon clusters will be set up by 2030, and at least one fully net zero cluster by 2040, stimulating the market to attract new investors and manufacturers to reinvigorate our industrial heartlands.

Hannah Vickers, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy & Engineering (ACE) which represents infrastructure design companies, said: “By marrying expansion of renewables with progress on nuclear, it has chosen a common sensical response to the future energy challenges we will face.” But she said that the ACE would have preferred to see support for low-carbon and carbon capture clusters linked to regional policy and embedded in a wider industrial strategy.

Civil engineering contractors that build the energy infrastructure see the white paper as “an important milestone in the UK’s transition to a net zero future”.

Marie-Claude Hemming, director of external affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said: “This white paper is a revolutionary step towards securing the UK’s net zero future, and is an important milestone on the journey towards decarbonisation the UK must take in coming years.

“We are particularly pleased that the government has announced its intention of pursuing a new nuclear power station at Sizewell C, as we have long argued that the UK will require a mixed portfolio of energy generation to both meet our carbon commitments and keep the lights on.

“CECA strongly supports new nuclear power as a vital component of the UK’s energy future, and hope today’s announcement will be the first in a wide-ranging programme across all parts of the UK to take advantage of the world-class nuclear skills we already have in place.

“These plans will not only secure the UK’s place at the forefront of the green industrial revolution but will create jobs and sustain livelihoods for many years to come, while placing the UK at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change.”

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