Does today's government statement make Sizewell C more likely?
- Credit: EDF Energy
The government has announced it is talking to EDF Energy about taking a stake in Sizewell C power station. What does this mean for the Suffolk coast, and is it the first stage in getting construction started on the project?
Does the announcement pave the way for work to start on Sizewell C?
In itself no. The government has confirmed that it is to talk to EDF Energy about taking a stake in the project, currently estimated to cost about £20bn, but there is no commitment to spending any money at this stage.
That has prompted those opposing the project to say that this announcement makes no difference - government sources had already indicated that it could invest in the project after concerns were raised about possible Chinese investment.
However supporters of Sizewell C say that the government's statement is a clear indication that it supports the development of the new power station.
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The government statement does say that it would have to be convinced that the project offered value for money and was affordable. That will give hope to those opposed to the power station that there could be a repeat of what happened 30 years ago when the government decided that an earlier proposal for Sizewell C was not viable.
Will this decision speed up a decision on whether Sizewell C will be built?
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Not really. The government hasn't decided it will invest in Sizewell C - just that it will talk to EDF Energy about taking a stake in the project.
This is one element of the jigsaw that will ultimately determine whether the project goes ahead - it should help the project to prove its economic viability but there are many other issues to be taken into account as well.
As well as proving its economic viability, the project will have to also show the power it supplies is needed and cannot be generated by better means.
It will have to show it can limit its damage to the environment.
It will have to prove it is safe in both normal operation and in the face of external threats including flooding, earthquakes, war or terrorist action.
Who will make the final decision on whether the power station can be built?
Like any construction project, Sizewell C needs to get planning permission. This normally comes from the local council, but because this is such a large and complex issue it will be considered directly by the government's Planning Inspectorate with a final decision taken by ministers.
The Planning Inspectorate has received representations from many organisations and individuals - including local councils, business groups, and objectors - but it has not yet started its examination of the issues. A final decision on whether the project should be allowed is still well over a year away.
And even if the decision is to allow it to be built there is no guarantee it will happen - that will then be a decision for EDF Energy and its partners after considering whether it is still viable with any conditions that the Planning Inspectorate may impose.
What are the arguments for the project?
Sizewell has been the site of nuclear power stations for nearly 60 years and site for a twin-generator Sizewell C was first identified more than 30 years ago before the government withdrew support because of the potential long-term costs of decommissioning the plant.
In the long term the power station would create a significant number of jobs in the area - and there is already a pool of expertise because of the number of people who have worked at Sizewell A and B over the years.
During the construction period thousands of jobs would be created - providing the opportunity for training in the construction and civil engineering industries. And while these works may only last a few years, they would bring millions of pounds of spending money into the local area.
What are the arguments against the project?
There has been concern about the nuclear industry for decades - including fears about the safety record of the civil industry which have been highlighted by the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima in Japan.
There have been long-standing concerns about Sizewell's potential vulnerability to high tides and fears that a repeat of the 1953 floods could cause problems.
And with the Sizewell C application now there are major concerns about its impact on the local environment - the construction site would take up much of the Eastbridge Marshes which is part of the Minsmere eco-system.
There are also major worries about the amount of extra traffic that would be attracted to the area's already-inadequate road system during the construction phase - and the impact this would have on local residents and the important tourist industry.
What do the local politicians have to say?
Sizewell is in the Suffolk Coastal constituency of Employment Secretary Dr Therese Coffey. She has said that while she is in favour of the principle of building a new power station on the site, the application is not good enough because it does not take enough account of environmental concerns.
That view is shared by her neighbouring MP Dr Dan Poulter, whose Central Suffolk and North Ipswich constituency includes many villages likely to be blighted by heavy traffic during any construction phase.
Both Suffolk County Council and East Suffolk Councils have traditionally been sympathetic to developments at Sizewell - but neither have been able to give their backing to the proposal because of their concerns about its impact on the local environment.
What happens next?
The future of the Sizewell C project is now very political.
Officials and ministers from the Department of Business and Energy, led by Secretary of State Alok Sharma, will be spending the next few months studying figures and negotiating with EDF Energy over the possibility of the government taking a stake in the project.
Meanwhile the Planning Inspectorate, which comes under Robert Jenrick's Department of Housing and Local Government, will start looking at the formal planning application - and looking at the environmental concerns.
It could be many months before these separate processes are completed - and a final decision may be up to the Cabinet itself.