Can anything stop Sizewell C as politicians back project?


There was a big protest about plans for Sizewell C recently - but the government appears to be inching towards approval. However it must insist on safeguards for the Suffolk coast. - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

The energy crisis we have seen in the last month or so has confirmed in my mind that Sizewell C is now more likely to be built than not.

The fuel crisis is not such a decisive factor in that - but the rise in gas prices and the subsequent collapse of energy firms will have confirmed the Prime Minister in his view that a new generation of nuclear power plants is necessary - continuing with Sizewell C.

If you believe the leaks from the government to Sunday newspapers, it seems they are also considering a number of "mini-reactors" to be built by Rolls-Royce and installed in or near large population centres to provide reliable power.

So it looks as if the government is looking for reasons to approve power stations like Sizewell C rather than reasons for rejecting them.

That's not to say EDF's proposals are a done deal but those of us who are worried about the future of the Suffolk coast do need to understand the pressures that are pushing them forward.

There is clearly mainstream political consensus at Westminster that Sizewell C should be built. Local Tory MPs have made it clear that they are in principle in favour of a new power plant - although they have major concerns about its impact on the local environment and the tourist economy.

At the weekend Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave the project a clear endorsement because of the backing of large trade unions. That's not going to do his party any good in East Suffolk - but I guess they've probably written that off as a bad job anyway.

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It also gives the impression that Labour is only interested in unionised jobs in places like Sizewell - it's not so fussed about those working in the leisure and tourism sectors because they're less likely to belong to UNITE or the GMB.

The Green Party in Suffolk, which is already on a high, must be rubbing its hands with glee!

I've always felt that the only argument that could deflect the government from building Sizewell C was the economic case - that essentially London-based ministers and civil servants would not see the protection of the Suffolk coast and its existing economy as being important enough to reject the new power station.

There is still hope that argument could prevail, but every rise in the gas prices and hiccup in the windfarm generation makes nuclear seem more attractive.

So is there any hope for the Suffolk coast? I fear things are looking worse for its prospects by the day.

Perhaps the best chance is to try to persuade EDF to go back to the original plan for Sizewell C - the plan rejected by the government in 1990 as being too expensive.

That protected the Eastbridge Marshes. It was not opposed by the RSPB and SWT. It used the existing entrances to the Sizewell A and B and used the same construction campus and offshore facilities that had been used for Sizewell B.

And although cost was the reason it was abandoned, it is important to remember it wasn't the construction cost that worried the government. It was the ongoing costs of generation and in particular of decommissioning.

If the 1990 proposal had been revived by EDF there would have been nowhere near the level of local opposition that we are seeing now - and the heritage coast and Minsmere nature reserve would have been protected, not threatened by the loss of its hinterland.

So far EDF have insisted that the 1990 option isn't on - and just tell anyone who questions their plans that there is no alternative, but I still haven't really heard any real reason for that apart from the fact that finances for the project are tight.

To me, that sounds as if they are trying to build Sizewell C on the cheap. That it isn't worth spending the money needed for a proper job that would preserve the Suffolk coast and see a new power station built.

At the very least we should demand that the government forces EDF to respect the local countryside as the price of getting the go-ahead. Whether it is prepared to do that remains to be seen.

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