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Hinkley Point nuclear energy plant approved – but still doubts over Sizewell C as new controls on foreign investment agreed

PUBLISHED: 08:54 15 September 2016 | UPDATED: 11:19 15 September 2016

A computer-generated image of how the Sizewell complex will look after construction of Sizewell C.

A computer-generated image of how the Sizewell complex will look after construction of Sizewell C.

Archant

Preparations for Sizewell C looked set to move to their next stage today as the Government decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.

The go-ahead was finally given for £18billion Hinkley Point C following a comprehensive review ordered by Prime Minister Theresa May – though new controls will be put in place on future foreign investment in Britain’s key energy projects and other infrastructure.

The decision clears the way for the second stage of consultation on Sizewell C to take place, which will reveal more details of EDF’s plans on key issues – especially the siting of the accommodation campus, road links, and park and ride sites.

However, whether the Government’s tighter restrictions on foreign finance for power stations will affect Sizewell C is not yet known.

The power station will be subject to its own final investment decision – still some years away, but which could prove a sticking point for EDF when the French energy giant enters into negotiations with its financial partners.

While Chinese company CGN has agreed to fund 20% of the development costs of Sizewell C, the project for a new power station at Bradwell is due to be the flagship for Chinese investment and design.

Today though CGN welcomed the Hinkley decision and said it was now “able to move forward and deliver” nuclear capacity at Sizewell and Bradwell.

The new legal framework for future foreign investment in Britain’s critical infrastructure will mean the Government will be able to prevent the sale of EDF’s controlling stake prior to the completion of construction, without the prior notification and agreement of ministers.

This agreement will be confirmed in an exchange of letters between the Government and EDF.

Existing legal powers, and the new legal framework, will mean that the Government is able to intervene in the sale of EDF’s stake once Hinkley is operational.

After Hinkley, the British Government will take a “special share” in all future nuclear new build projects. This will ensure that significant stakes cannot be sold without the Government’s knowledge or consent.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation will be directed to require notice from developers or operators of nuclear sites of any change of ownership or part-ownership. This will allow the Government to advise or direct the ONR to take action to protect national security as a result of a change in ownership.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “Having thoroughly reviewed the proposal for Hinkley Point C, we will introduce a series of measures to enhance security and will ensure Hinkley cannot change hands without the Government’s agreement. Consequently, we have decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.

“Britain needs to upgrade its supplies of energy, and we have always been clear that nuclear is an important part of ensuring our future low-carbon energy security.”

The Government says it is committed to ensuring the country has a secure low carbon energy supply.

Hinkley Point C will inaugurate a new era of UK nuclear power. Currently, the UK has eight power stations which generate around 20% of power in the UK – but almost all of these existing power stations are due to close by 2030.

Jean-Bernard Levy, EDF Group chief executive, said: “The decision of the British Government to approve the construction of Hinkley Point C marks the relaunch of nuclear in Europe. It demonstrates the UK’s desire to lead the fight against climate change through the development of low carbon electricity.

“This decision demonstrates confidence in the EPR technology and in the world-renowned expertise of the French nuclear industry. I congratulate the teams of EDF who have developed this project to maturity with enthusiasm, professionalism and determination.”

Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy and executive committee member of the EDF Group said: “Today’s announcement is good news for British consumers, a huge boost for British industry and a major step forward in the fight against climate change.

“The strong performance of the EDF Energy’s 15 nuclear reactors underpins our credibility as a nuclear operator and developer in the UK. We will take the risk and responsibility to deliver Hinkley Point C and provide the UK with the reliable low carbon electricity it needs. The experience and expertise gained from restarting new nuclear build in the UK will help following projects be cheaper.”

John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, said: “This decision is unlikely to be the grand finale to this summer’s political soap opera. There are still huge outstanding financial, legal and technical obstacles that can’t be brushed under the carpet. There might be months or even years of wrangling over these issues.

“That’s why the Government should start supporting renewable power that can come online quickly for a competitive price.”

Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said: “The final green light for Hinkley Point is good news for the UK’s energy future as well as supporting jobs and growth across the South West and the country.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We are pleased ministers have ended the uncertainty over Hinkley Point. This project will create thousands of quality jobs and apprenticeships and bring much-needed investment to the South West.”

Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary for energy, said: “Giving the thumbs-up to Hinkley is vital to fill the growing hole in the UK’s energy supply needs.”

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