Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stressed the need to “go nuclear” to boost the UK’s energy security as he promised £700 million ($810 million) of funding for the planned Sizewell C nuclear power project.
In his last major policy speech before leaving office next week, Johnson said the spike in gas prices driven by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine shows why new nuclear generation capacity is needed in the UK.
The new reactor at the Sizewell site in Suffolk is expected to be built in partnership with French energy firm EDF and could power the equivalent of about 6 million homes.
Almost half of the UK’s current nuclear capacity is due to be decommissioned by 2025.
Johnson said there had been a “paralysis over British nuclear energy,” blaming successive governments for failing to invest in new reactors.
“Yes, nuclear always looks—when you begin—it always looks relatively expensive to build and to run,” he said. “But look at what’s happening today, look at the results of Putin’s war. It is certainly cheap by comparison with hydrocarbons today.”
“Let’s think about the future, let’s think about our kids and our grandchildren, about the next generation,” he said.
“And so I say to you, with the prophetic candour and clarity of one who is about to hand over the torch of office, I say go nuclear, and go large, and go with Sizewell C.”
The UK government gave the go-ahead to the Sizewell C project in July.
The project, which is expected to cost £20 billion ($24 billion), will be mainly funded by the French energy company EDF, but the Chinese state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) also has a 20 percent stake.
CGN is also developing the Hinkley Point C, the only new nuclear plant currently under construction in the UK, jointly with EDF.
China’s involvement in nuclear power in the UK dates back to an agreement endorsed by then-Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2015. The UK government’s appetite for Chinese investment in infrastructure has since soured.
In 2020, the UK government reversed its position on Huawei, banning the Chinese telecom giant from its 5G mobile phone network.
Under mounting pressure from the United States and prominent Conservative backbenchers, the government indicated a growing appetite to cut CGN out from the Sizewell C project.
The government announced a new financing model in October 2021 that provides a mechanism to squeeze CGN out of Sizewell without invoking national security laws that would likely crank up tensions with Beijing.
With the new model, EDF will be able to forge new partnerships with alternative private investors.
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