Jeremy Hunt confirmed in his autumn statement that the government will push ahead with the new nuclear power plant at Sizewell C in Suffolk.
Doubts had been raised in the leadup to the Chancellor’s announcement, with some fearing that the project - the final cost of which is estimated at between £20 billion and £30 billion - could be axed as the government looked for ways to save money. But Hunt has confirmed that contracts for the investment in the plant will be signed within weeks, ultimately creating 10,000 jobs and generating enough power for six million homes.
It comes after former Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised £700 million in funding for the nuclear power plant. In his last major policy speech in office, the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP said Sizewell C would form a vital part of the government’s plans to improve the UK’s energy security - adding that it would be “madness” to not go ahead with the project.
Speaking at the time on the benefits of nuclear investment in reducing energy bills, Johnson compared the situation to buying a new kettle: “If you have an old kettle that takes ages to boil, it may cost you £20 to replace it. But if you get a new one you will save £10 a year every year on your electricity bill.”
Meanwhile, speaking in the House of Commons as he gave the project the go ahead today (17 November), Hunt said: “There is only one way to stop ourselves being at the mercy of international gas prices: energy independence combined with energy efficiency. Britain is a global leader in renewable energy” but insisted “we need to go further, with a major acceleration of home-grown technologies like offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, and, above all, nuclear”.
When Johnson announced the funding for Sizewell C, which will be built in partnership with energy firm EDF, he revealed that it could power the equivalent of six million homes and would have cut fuel bills by £3 billion if it had been operational this year.
The ousted Prime Minister’s comments came following the spike in energy prices driven by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which Johnson said highlighted why nuclear energy capacity was needed in the UK. He also took aim at those reluctant to invest in new reactors, claiming “it is a chronic case of politicians not being able to see beyond the political cycle.”
“Yes, nuclear always looks - when you begin - relatively expensive to build and run,” he explained. “But look at what’s happening today, look at the results of Vladimir Putin’s war. It is certainly cheap by comparison with hydrocarbons today.” He then urged his successor to “go nuclear, go large”.
Speaking this morning (17 November) on the plans for the project, Hunt said: “This will deliver new jobs, industries, and export opportunities and secure the clean, affordable energy we need to power our future economy and reach net zero by 2050.
“Subject to final government approvals, the contracts for the initial investment will be signed with relevant parties, including EDF, in the coming weeks, it will create 10,000 highly skilled jobs and provide reliable, low-carbon, power to the equivalent of 6 million homes for over 50 years.
“Our £700m investment is the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years and represents the biggest step in our journey to energy independence.”
Hunt’s announcement has received a mixed reception. Campaigners against the nuclear plant proposal have already criticised the Chancellor, with a spokesperson for the group Stop Sizewell C remarking: “If the Chancellor is looking for cheap, reliable, energy independence, he is backing the wrong project, as Sizewell C’s ultimate cost and technical reliability are very uncertain and building it is reliant on French state-owned EDF.
“Greenlighting Sizewell C also loads more tax onto struggling households, who would be forced to pay a nuclear levy on bills for a decade before they could light a single lightbulb. Despite the Chancellor’s statement, Sizewell C still needs financing, and with at least a year before it’s decided whether it will finally go ahead, we’ll keep fighting this huge black hole for taxpayers’ money, when there are cheaper, quicker ways to get to net zero.”
When Johnson first announced the funding, he also said he expected his successor - which at the time, was either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss (we didn’t yet know it would be both of them) - to provide “substantial sums” to help with the cost of living crisis.
At the time, measures already announced by the government included a universal £400 discount on energy bills and a total of £1,200 extra support for vulnerable households. Since then, during Truss’ short tenure in office, she put in place a £2,500 cap on all household bills for two years.
As of today however, Hunt has revealed that energy bills will be increasing once again. From April 2023, the Energy Price Guarantee will rise to £3,000 for the average household. This means millions of households will see their energy bills go up by hundreds of pounds.
However, the Chancellor also announced that there will be more targeted support for the most vulnerable members of society. Those on means-tested benefits will receive an additional £900, while an extra £300 will be given to pensioners and £150 to people in receipt of disability benefits.