'The lights won't stay on without it' - row over Sizewell B director's stark warning on future of nuclear power
Anti-nuclear campaigners have hit back at stark warnings by the director of Suffolk's Sizewell B station that nuclear power is a "national imperative" for the future.
Many people are strongly against nuclear power in Suffolk and particularly the building as a new power station at Sizewell C.
But Paul Morton, who took charge of EDF Energy's Sizewell B nuclear power station in 2016, said in an interview with this newspaper: "I don't believe the lights will stay on without it."
His comments, made during a tour by this newspaper of the site on the Suffolk coast, have today been described as "erroneous" by the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, which has restated its belief that nuclear power is "not needed, not wanted and leaves behind radioactive waste".
But while Mr Morton accepted that "renewables will play a big part", he believes: "That will get nowhere near being able to fulfil the needs of the nation.
"When the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine, we still need to be able to power our homes, pump our water, produce our food.
"Nuclear technology can fill that gap at the moment."
The station's director, who has worked most of his life in coal and gas power stations, quickly reached the view that nuclear power is essential to the future after taking over at Sizewell B more than three years ago.
"Where I started out my career, it became clear it wasn't technology you could rely on in the long-term," he said.
Fossil fuels are a finite resource, with many predicting coal, oil and gas could run out in anywhere between 50 and 100 years.
Yet the demand for electricity grows, with cars increasingly relying on electric as fuel runs out.
"We need to ensure we provide sustainable energy for the long-term and nuclear is one of the answers to that," said Mr Morton.
"The electrification of our lives is very clearly a direction we're going to go.
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"We've burned fossil fuels to create electricity and we've burned them to heat our houses. Over the next few decades, that's going to change.
"We need to be able to produce bigger volumes of electricity in a clean, sustainable way."
However a spokesman for the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign said that in its view, it is wrong to describe nuclear energy as low carbon.
"It will be at least 12 years before a single kilowatt can be produced by Sizewell C," the spokesman said.
"That's as long as we've got to do something about climate change.
"There are already many ways of keeping the lights on. We need to find ways of living with less.
"There are many, many reasons why we do not think nuclear power is absolutely necessary as Mr Morton seems to be suggesting. His statement is a little erroneous."
The spokesman added that "nuclear waste is still a big, big problem", although Mr Morton said the amounts produced by Sizewell B are relatively small.
Although the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign worries that radioactive waste could become unsafe from flooding and even terrorism, Mr Morton said its strong safety record makes that unlikely.
Many of the objections to a new nuclear power station at Sizewell C centre on entirely separate issues, such as the effect on the nearby Minsmere nature reserve which the RSPB says could be catastrophic.
EDF Energy is adamant it is going above and beyond to protect wildlife in its proposals for Sizewell C, for example with the creation of a wetland habitat at nearby Aldhurst Farm.
Groups like the RSPB and even celebrities such as Bill Turnbull beg to differ.
But although its lifetime could be extended, Sizewell B's current lifespan is only currently due to last until 2035.
EDF believes that could potentially leave a huge gap in the UK's energy needs, at the very time demand is rising.
"The renewal of our current assets is a national imperative," said Mr Morton.
"We have to do it and we have to do it now to continue to supply the nation with the energy it will need."