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Is this the end of the nuclear age? Why the writing is on the wall for Sizewell C plans

PUBLISHED: 06:00 14 September 2017

Wind and solar is the future of UK energy - not nuclear. Picture: ORBIS ENERGY

Wind and solar is the future of UK energy - not nuclear. Picture: ORBIS ENERGY

Archant

All my life, nuclear power has been a part of Suffolk life – and for 50 years it has felt as if it would always be there.

Will Sizewell B be the last nuclear plant to be built in East Anglia? Picture: EDFWill Sizewell B be the last nuclear plant to be built in East Anglia? Picture: EDF

As a child in the 1960s I remember Sizewell power station (later Sizewell A) being built just down the road from our home near Leiston.

As a young reporter in the early 1980s I remember the Sizewell B inquiry, and for three years I covered the construction of that plant as our Leiston-based reporter.

But an announcement earlier this week indicated to me that Sizewell C will never be built.

It suggested that nuclear energy, for years seen as the cutting edge of technology, is now out of date – and due to be consigned to the history books.

This week it was confirmed that electricity from offshore wind turbines was now cheaper than it is from nuclear power stations – and that within a few years it will be only half the cost.

And wind and solar power is now becoming much more reliable. Huge new offshore turbines can now add significant power to the grid with only a light breeze.

You might need extra power capacity to come on and go off during weather dips – but nuclear is not the technology to supply that. Nuclear plants have to be on all the time; you can’t switch them on and off in a matter of seconds.

For Suffolk, that has a tremendous impact, and it does need us to reconsider much of what we have considered as the future direction of the county’s development. But in essence it could turn out to be really good news.

What is the point of going ahead with a new Sizewell C nuclear plant? Isn’t it more sensible to start looking at building more wind turbines in the North Sea.

And, whisper it quietly, it makes even more sense to build more onshore wind turbines. Their power is cheaper than the offshore wind farms. It is ludicrous not to develop more of them.

I know many people seem to think these things are the work of Satan himself – but we really do have to get real!

Some vociferous critics might not like their look, feeling that “modern architecture” is out of place in the countryside, but I’m not the only person to think wind turbines can add interest to a landscape and are a fine 21st century architectural contribution to Britain’s built environment.

I don’t look at the end of the nuclear era with any great sense of triumph or satisfaction. I still see nuclear plants as an important green power generation contribution of their time. They are better for the planet than huge coal, gas or oil power stations. I’ve always considered myself to be pro-nuclear.

But they do have safety issues that cost billions to overcome – and make the cost of their electricity uneconomic. There is none of this baggage with wind or solar power.

If I’m right and this renewable news does prove to be the death-knell for Sizewell C plans, there will be relief in the villages around Eastbridge and Theberton that were going to be blighted by a huge campus built not so much on their doorstep as in their front hall!

But it will prompt concern for villages along the A12 who saw EDF cash as the way of ensuring they finally get the Four Villages by-pass.

It is wise that the proposals for the by-pass, published earlier this week, are not dependent on EDF funding. But clearly the financial backing of a huge energy giant would have helped.

Now the county council will have to promote the route to the Government and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership by stressing the links to Lowestoft and the offshore energy industry.

That has to be the future for Suffolk’s energy coast – and the figures suggest there could be a really bright future for the offshore energy industry that our ports are well-placed to support.

Of course, the Sizewell nuclear power stations will continue to be a feature of the coast for many more decades – Sizewell B will carry on generating until the middle of the century – but it’s difficult to see the nuclear dynasty continuing.

The fact is our technology has moved on – and we need to face that fact.

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My regular readers who are fans of the BBC1 quiz show might recognise me on tonight’s show when I appear with my daughter.

Filming the current series took place some time ago and we’ve been sworn to secrecy – but I will be writing about what it’s like behind the scenes over the next few days.

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