Proposed Suffolk plant a ‘nuclear white elephant’

Following discussion between the UK Government and EDF to construct a nuclear power plant at an estimated cost £20 billion, Green MP Caroline Lucas calls for the ongoing support for the  ‘eye-wateringly expensive and painfully slow’ form of power generation to be scrapped. 

Hinkley Point C power plant

Nick Chipchase (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Construction of new power station (C) at Hinkley Point

Green World

Speaking in the Commons during a debate on the Energy White Paper (14 December), which aims to set out how the UK will clean up its energy system to reach net zero emissions by 2050, Green MP Caroline Lucas renewed criticism of the UK Government’s focus on nuclear energy. 

Lucas highlighted the cost and time it takes to build facilities, warning: "When renewables costs are plummeting, it's madness to waste £20bn on another nuclear white elephant."

She added: "It will leave consumers with higher bills, destroy important habitats and unlikely to be online till the late 2030s."

Lucas’s comments follow the Government’s announcement that it had begun talks with EDF about the construction of a new £20 billion nuclear power plant in Suffolk. Any agreement made is likely to be highly controversial, although the Government has said that any deal would be dependent on its affordability or value for money.

The new Sizewell C plant would be built next to Sizewell B in Suffolk, which is currently generating and Sizewell A, which is being decommissioned. 

The track record of the development of Hinkley Point C in Somerset illustrates the financial risks associated with nuclear power. In 2013, the project was expected to cost £16 billion, but in 2017 this figure rose to £19.6 billion and recent estimates suggest this figure will exceed £21bn

EDF initially negotiated a guaranteed fixed price for electricity from Hinkley Point C of £92.50/megawatt hour (MWh). While this figure could fall to £89.50/MWh if the Sizewell C plant is approved. However, in 2016, the Government estimated that due to falling energy costs, the additional cost to consumers of future top-up payments of the Hinkley plant would increase from £6.1 billion to around £30 billion. 

Meanwhile, costs of offshore wind have continued to fall. In 2019, 5.5 GW of new offshore wind capacity became available with record low prices of £39.65/MWh and £41.61/MWh, according to 2012 prices.

Critics of the proposed nuclear power plant are also worried that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for additional costs if a similar situation arises. 

“The reality is that with nuclear, consumers pay twice,” Lucas added, whilst speaking in the Commons yesterday.

“First to reduce the cost of borrowing by increasing bills before the plant is operating, forcing liability for construction delays on to customers, and second for extremely costly power once the plant starts operating.”