End of an era: will Sizewell C follow?

As one era came to an end with the decommissioning of Sizewell A, a question mark still hangs over the construction of a third nuclear power station in Suffolk.

As one era came to an end with the decommissioning of Sizewell A, a question mark still hangs over the construction of a third nuclear power station in Suffolk.

For more than a decade proposals to build Sizewell C, close to its sister stations A and B, have gained momentum only to disappear from the agenda of the government of the day.

But, if the Blair government's energy review published in July is anything to go by, 2007 could be the year in which a firm decision is reached.

Ultimately any such project would rest in the hands of the private sector with trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling acknowledging it would be up to such firm to “initiate, fund, construct and operate” any new nuclear plants as well as covering the costs of decommissioning and long-term waste management costs.

But the review also appeared to give the green light to project like Sizewell C saying that nuclear power “would make a significant contribution” to meeting the UK's energy needs particularly as reserves of North Sea oil and gas are declining. The report approved the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors and promised to speed up the planning process.

While such a project is expected to cost £2bn plus, British Energy which runs Sizewell B hinted that the company will bring forward proposals to build a new reactor close to the existing power station.

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With 400 people in Suffolk already employed in the nuclear industry it would seem a strong likelihood the area will continue to play a key role in the sector. According to the energy review the nuclear industry favours building new plants close to existing power stations.

In a sign of intent Bill Coley, chief executive of British Energy, said: “British Energy owns valuable nuclear licensed sites in areas which have excellent community support and which are very strong candidates for new nuclear build.

“We have the skills and experience of operating nuclear power stations in the UK and we are ready to play our role in the country's energy future.”

However, such a project is never going to be a smooth process. Environmentalists continue to express concern over reliance on nuclear energy and particularly over how waste will be handled in the long-term. Campaigners said building nuclear power stations carried huge risks and changing planning laws threatened to disenfranchise the public.

Friends of the Earth has already expressed concern about how such planning applications would be handled stressing that residents must be given a genuine say in any such decision.