Sizewell C nuclear plant confirmed with taxpayers to fund ‘£100m’ China buyout

29 November 2022, 14:19

Sizewell C will be built next to Sizewell B power station on the Suffolk coast
Sizewell C will be built next to Sizewell B power station on the Suffolk coast. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

The Government has confirmed the go-ahead for the new Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk, backing the scheme with a £700 million stake.

The government is paying about £100 million to buy a Chinese state company out of the plant, according to the Times.

It comes after Rishi Sunak said the so-called "golden era" of relations with China is over in his first foreign policy speech. He described economic ties to China as "naive."

The move, which ministers said would create 10,000 highly skilled jobs and provide reliable low-carbon power to the equivalent of six million homes for more than 50 years, is part of efforts to secure UK energy security.

The Government also said it would set up an arms-length body, Great British Nuclear, which would develop a pipeline of nuclear projects beyond Sizewell C.

The plant in Suffolk, developed by French energy giant EDF, will be the second of a new generation of nuclear power reactors, after the delayed Hinkley Point C scheme in Somerset which is under construction, but has seen costs climb since it was first given the go-ahead.

EDF's chief executive, Simone Rossi, said replicating Hinkley Point C's design at Sizewell would provide more certainty over schedule and costs, adding: "It will deliver another big boost to jobs and skills in the nuclear industry and provide huge new opportunities for communities in Suffolk".

The announcement comes after ministers also set out plans to reduce energy demand by 15% by 2030, with a new £1 billion Eco+ energy efficiency scheme, and a public awareness campaign, previously blocked under Liz Truss's administration as being too "nanny state", to help save energy this winter.

Mr Sunak is facing pressure, including from some Tory MPs, to U-turn on plans to keep the ban on onshore wind farms in England, one of the cheapest forms of energy.

Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said: "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.

"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."

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who announced the intention to push ahead with the project in the autumn statement, said: "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.

"Together with our drive to improve the nation's energy efficiency, this package will help to permanently bring down energy bills and stop Britain being at the mercy of global gas prices beyond our control."

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Downing Street on Tuesday declined to get into specific details about the exit of China General Nuclear from the project or the size of the buy-out costs.

Asked if the Government could rule out Chinese involvement in future nuclear energy projects, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I think we would need to make a judgement on what is right for the UK.

He said that the Government "certainly wouldn't do anything that put UK security at risk and indeed our focus is on enhancing our energy independence".