Weighing up benefits of a new Sizewell

BUSSINES secretary John Hutton's announcement that the UK is to get a new generation of nuclear power stations has seemingly put the possibility of a Sizewell C at the forefront of the effort to secure the future of energy supplies.

BUSSINES secretary John Hutton's announcement that the UK is to get a new generation of nuclear power stations has seemingly put the possibility of a Sizewell C at the forefront of the effort to secure the future of energy supplies. Reporter PAUL GEATER worked in Leiston during part of the construction of Sizewell B and today looks at the likely impact on the Suffolk economy of a major new construction project on the coast.

NUCLEAR power stations do not go up overnight.

They take years to build and provide work for thousands of skilled construction workers while they are taking shape.

Work began on Sizewell B power station in late 1987, but it was not until 1995 that it started generating power for the National Grid.

During that seven-year construction programme, skilled, well-paid, workers from across Britain - and wider afield - came into the area.

Most of them did not live here full-time. A huge hostel was built on the edge of the Sizewell site and hundreds of workers lived there during the week, returning to their homes at the weekend.

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Some workers spent all seven years on the project, but the majority were employed by sub-contractors for s specific construction phase.

However some of these phases in themselves lasted several months or even years.

Those who spent the entire project in Suffolk moved their families to the area and settled nearby during the construction period.

Others lived at the hostel, or lived in caravans which used campsites along the Suffolk coast.

The construction workers were well paid - and their companies were keen to train school-leavers in the area.

The effect of the construction work meant that the coastal strip of Suffolk was effectively insulated from the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Unskilled workers were also needed and the pay rates at Sizewell were more than many were used to earning, prompting a move away from many traditional industries.

The further away from Sizewell the smaller the effect, although many of the workers used to city living preferred to base themselves in Ipswich during the construction process than in a small village near the Suffolk coast.

During the construction period, businesses in the area benefited from large numbers of skilled workers having large disposable incomes to spend.

Pubs and restaurants benefited, although there was also a significant rise in the number of drink-drive convictions as people drove back to their hostel or caravan.

The economic benefits rippled over a large area and helped to persuade many people living near Sizewell to welcome the project.

There is a significant opposition from many people living near the stations but generally the majority of people living near Sizewell are in favour of nuclear power or at least neutral on the subject.

Proposals for Sizewell C had been drawn up before the government pulled the plug on the project in 1990.

That envisaged the construction of a two-reactor power plant twice the size of Sizewell B next to the Suffolk plant.

Sizewell B is owned and operated by British Energy, which still owns the potential site of Sizewell C, but it is unclear whether that company will have the financial muscle to go ahead with a new generation of power stations on its own.

Other companies expressing an interest in developing nuclear stations in this country include French government-owned EDF and German giant E.ON.

It is thought either of them could enter a partnership with British Energy to develop new nuclear plants at Sizewell and Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Views on a new nuclear plant at Sizewell:

Ann Nunn, chairman of Leiston-cum-Sizewell Town Council, said: “I can only speak for myself and not the council on this as we have not met to discuss it. Personally I would welcome a Sizewell C - A and B have been good neighbours to the town and have brought money, jobs and prosperity to Leiston.

“I know some people will not be happy but there does not really seem to be any alternative.”

Former Sizewell B worker David Hogg said: “I would not even be here in Leiston if it wasn't for the power station. I came here to work at Sizewell B and stayed.

“This town would not be half as prosperous without the power station and Sizewell C will help inject more money into Leiston and bring more jobs and people to the area.

“I think most people will welcome this and the opportunities it will bring to the town.”

However Leiston resident Marie Scannell said she had concerns about another station being built.

She said: “It is not that it is being built here but the fact that it is being built at all. I think the government has not looked closely enough at other options and are rushing ahead with this rather than investigating other sources of energy.”

Mary Edwards, East Anglian spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said: “Today's decision to give the go-ahead to a new generation of nuclear power stations will undermine safe and sustainable solutions to Britain's energy problems and will do little to tackle climate change.”

But Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, the biggest nuclear industry union, welcomed the government's announcement.

“Nuclear energy is green energy, essential in the race to tackle climate change. New nuclear build is an essential part of a balanced energy policy that must embrace a wide range of low carbon options,” he said.