Sizewell C may become reality

PAUL HILL Proposals abandoned a decade ago to build Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk looked set to be revived last night after ministers published their long-awaited review of Britain's future energy needs.

PAUL HILL

Proposals abandoned a decade ago to build Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk looked set to be revived last night after ministers published their long-awaited review of Britain's future energy needs.

As expected, the trade and industry secretary, Alistair Darling, announced that the government will approve the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors - and speed up the planning process.

Planning laws will also be changed to make it easier to build windfarms - and householders may be able to install small turbines and solar panels without lodging an application at all.

The government's review raises hopes of a three-fold economic boost for the East of England by spurring the creation of new offshore windfarms, hinting at new tax breaks for the biofuels industry and backing the nuclear industry, which already employs more than 400 people in Suffolk.

But environmentalists said building nuclear power stations carried huge risks and changing planning laws threatened to disenfranchise people.

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In a sign of intent, British Energy - which runs Sizewell B - hinted last night that the company will bring forward proposals to build a new reactor close to the existing power station.

Mr Darling said that nuclear power would make a "significant contribution" to meeting the UK's energy needs - particularly as reserves of North Sea oil and gas declined. But amid speculation that building Sizewell C might cost £2bn-plus, Mr Darling added: "It would be for the private sector to initiate, fund, construct and operate new nuclear plants and cover costs of de-commissioning and their full share of long-term waste-management costs."

According to the energy review, the nuclear industry favours building new plants close to existing power stations - raising the prospect of a second new reactor in the East at Bradwell, Essex.

Welcoming the announcement, 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."

Mary Edwards, regional campaigns co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth in the East of England, said the government's announcement was flawed. "Sizewell would probably be one of the front-runners for a new nuclear build. But this time around, local people will maybe only be allowed to pick the colour of the paint on the front gate - they won't have a say on the issues of substance. People in the Sizewell area need to recognise that a few local jobs should not blind them to the extraordinary danger of nuclear waste and catastrophic accidents," she said.

But Steve Clarke, of Renewables East - the agency set up to promote East Anglia's green potential - welcomed the support for windfarms and energy conservation in the plan. "Anything that lends itself to quicker consent that would lead to a faster deployment of offshore windfarms around the coast of the East of England would be most welcome," he said.