Sizewell C plans up in the air as government makes spending cuts

Plans for the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk are “under review” as the government makes cuts to spending, according to reports.

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A government official told the BBC it is “reviewing every major project, including Sizewell C”, according to the broadcaster. This indicates that the 3.2-gigawatt plant, which was expected to start generating power in the 2030s and provide up to 7% of the UKs total electricity needs, could be delayed or even axed, the BBC reported.

This news comes ahead of the COP27 climate summit next week, that prime minister Rishi Sunak will now attend after facing a backlash following an original decision not to go.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson said in one of his final speeches that he was “absolutely confident” that the £30bn funding deal for the power plant would go through, after a leaked letter seen by The Times revealed that Johnson had already given a green light to the financing “in secret”.

Under these plans, the UK government was set to take a 20% stake in the power station, at a cost to the taxpayer of around £6bn. This move prompted concerns that it could impact the “fiscal choices for an incoming government”. Former prime minister Liz Truss pledged “full support” for the nuclear plant.

The new government's spending plans are expected to be unveiled in an Autumn budget on 17 November.

Chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, Darren Jones, highlighted that the speculation over Sizewell C comes as the group calls on the government to publish an energy national policy statement.

He said: “If the Sizewell C new nuclear plant is axed, the Prime Minister will have to decide whether to (i) rapidly speed up offshore and onshore wind and solar; or (ii) take on the security of supply, cost and carbon risk of keeping so many gas power plants.

“The review will probably conclude that the state can’t take on the capital risk of paying for the majority of the costs of Sizewell C, because private finance was not forthcoming. Nuclear is costly and risky but political chopping and changing has made the investment case harder.”

Green party co-leader Adrian Ramsay, who is a parliamentary candidate for North Suffolk, said he was pleased to hear about the review.

He described Sizewell C as “a burden and risk, not a solution” and said: “The government must instead invest in solutions that can address energy and climate crisis, such as renewables and nationwide home insulation”

However, campaign manager for the Open Rights Group and Liberal Democrat councillor James Barker warned that a decision to drop Sizewell C would be a “massive mistake” and tweeted that nuclear power was a key part of the UKs transition from fossil fuels.

A Treasury spokeswoman told the BBC that delivering infrastructure projects was “a priority”.

She said the government looks to approve at least one large-scale nuclear project in the next few years and “speed up” other major infrastructure projects.

Whilst he was prime minister, Boris Johnson said the UK would build eight new reactors in the next eight years, and Sunak pledged to uphold this in the leadership race. A shift away from that position would represent a major change in UK energy policy.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “Our position on the Sizewell C project has not changed. It is crucial to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, increasing our energy security, and meeting our net zero ambitions with reliable clean energy.

“We have made up to £700 million available for the deal, as part of the £1.7 billion for developing a large-scale nuclear project to the point of final investment decision in this Parliament.”