Following the collapse of the project to build a new nuclear plant at Wylfa, on the island of Anglesey, the UK government may increase it support for the planned Sizewell C plant in Suffolk, the BBC reported on 16 September.
“The government is disappointed after Japan's Hitachi pulled out but insists it is committed to new nuclear as way to decarbonise the UK power supply,” the BBC said. “It is looking at options to replace China's CGN as an investor in Sizewell. That could include the government taking a stake in the plant.”
Currently only one of six planned nuclear newbuild projects in the UK is under construction, at Hinkley Point C, while three have been abandoned and two are waiting approval. The involvement of Chinese state-owned company China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in the UK's new nuclear plans is being seen as problematic by the present government. CGN owns a 33% stake in Hinkley Point C, which is being built by EDF in Somerset. CGN also has a 20% stake in the development phase of Sizewell on the understanding it would participate in the construction phase and then supply its domestically designed Hualong One reactor for the plant planned at Bradwell in Essex.
The BBC cited industry and government sources as saying “Chinese involvement in designing and running its own design nuclear reactor on UK soil ‘looks dead’, given revived security concerns and deteriorating diplomatic relations after the government's decision to phase out Chinese firm Huawei's equipment from a new generation of telecommunication networks”.
If CGN is excluded “the government may choose to take a direct stake in Sizewell, according to people familiar with the matter”, the report added.
In June, an industrial consortium, comprising 100 organisatons including 32 companies energy companies, was established specifically to support Sizewell C. The Sizewell C Consortium includes Assystem; Atkins; Balfour Beatty Bailey; Bilfinger; Cavendish Nuclear; Doosan Babcock; EDF; Jacobs; Laing O’Rourke; Mott MacDonald; Mace, as well as host of smaller businesses. It is also backed by some of the country’s biggest trade unions including the GMB, the Unite Union and Prospect.
In the wake of the Wylfa decision, Cameron Gilmour, spokesman for the Sizewell C Consortium said: “This news will have serious ramifications for companies both in Wales and across the UK. The Wylfa nuclear project would have been another important milestone for the UK’s nuclear supply chain and would have created thousands of jobs. Unless Sizewell C, a replica of the under-construction Hinkley Point C, is given the go-ahead, there is now a serious risk to the future of the UK’s civil nuclear construction capability and the tens of thousands of jobs that go with it.”
Major union Unite on 18 September called on the government to approve plans for Sizewell C, arguing that 10,000 jobs are “in the balance” over the project. Peter McIntosh, Unite’s national officer for energy, said: “The Sizewell C Consortium makes a strong case for ministers to get their skates on and approve the go-ahead for the new nuclear power station in Suffolk – thousands of highly skilled jobs hang in the balance. It is essential that a skills bridge is created from Hinkley Point, being constructed in Somerset, to Sizewell to ensure that the skills and the knowledge that have been acquired on the initial project can be transferred to Sizewell and are not lost to the country’s skill base.”
However, the project has met with significant local opposition, Suffolk County Council has already said it cannot give its backing to the Sizewell C without changes to the plans. Other groups, including the RSPB and the Stop Sizewell C campaign, have made clear their opposition to the project on a number of grounds, including the environmental impact.
Charles Macdowell, of Stop Sizewell C and B1122 Action Group, said: “It’s utterly wrong for Unite to be pressing the government to approve Sizewell C while there is a planning process underway that would be totally prejudiced by such a decision.” He added: “With so many individuals and groups opposing the project, and Suffolk County Council unable to support it, it’s vital EDF’s proposals receive detailed scrutiny, especially the unproven claims of economic benefit and jobs for local people, which are undermined by compelling evidence of job losses in tourism.”
The application to build Sizewell C was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in May 2020. A final decision will be made by the Government.
Meanwhile, EDF Energy said that Sizewell C is increasing the number of apprentices it is aiming to employ from 1000 to 1500. “A range of opportunities from conventional to degree level apprenticeships will be offered if construction of the new nuclear power station goes ahead,” it said.
The new apprenticeships target follows the success in training people of all ages at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, EDF said. “Four years into construction, more than 650 apprentices have already worked on over fifty different training programmes linked to the project. The majority of apprentices have come from the local area. In addition, changes to Government guidance mean companies are allowed greater flexibility in the training they can give through apprenticeship schemes.”
Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary, Unite the Union said:
"Sizewell will be the catalyst for providing young people, particularly those living in East Anglia, with skills for life and it will provide a huge boost to the local economy. It is imperative that the government not only gives the green light to the Sizewell C development but provides direct assistance to ensure that this project begins as early as possible, so that these commitments on apprentices can start to be achieved as soon as possible and the experience of building Hinkley Point can be fully utilised."
Photo: Sizewell C (Credit: EDF Energy)