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Unclear to nuclear - Hinkley Point C approved

Places - Hinkley Point C

After delaying for almost two months, the UK government has finally given the green light to build the UK’s first nuclear power station since Sizewell B 28 years ago. The decision to approve the £18 billion Hinkley Point C plant – which has been several years in the making – sends a clear message to energy developers like Nugeneration and Horizon: the UK’s energy future is nuclear.

From the very start this project has been beset with controversy, delays and uncertainty; a saga that cast a constant cloud over the future of the UK energy mix. From EU member state protests over the use of contracts for difference (Environment Analyst 14-Oct-14), to the resignation of developer EDF’s director Gérard Magnin following board concerns over the financial viability of the project, to the UK’s surprise decision to delay the final approval in July this year. The road has been a rocky one.

But the latest announcement by the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark should finally lay to rest the industry uncertainty surrounding the eleven other planned reactors (see figure). To date, only Hinkley Point C has made it through the planning process and a number of other proposals - most notably Horizon’s Wylfa Newydd and NuGen’s Moorside – not to mention the environmental consultancies and others in the supply chain that will support them will look at the decision as a landmark moment.

UK managing director for energy and industry at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Ian Maclean described it as the “good news we’ve all been waiting for”. He said: “After years of delays we can now look positively to the future, prepare our business and recruitment plans accordingly, and start filling the growing gap in our energy mix. However, this is just the beginning. We now need to start delivering not just on this one project but also other major nuclear projects (both big and small modular reactors) that are yet to get off the ground.

“Whilst this is a huge step forward in decarbonising our energy supply, we shouldn’t ignore the widespread public demand for renewables, as recent polls have suggested. Hopefully this is a sign the government intends to create a business climate that will encourage investors and developers alike to forge ahead with a new fleet of power plant that includes a mix of both renewable energy and nuclear power, as well as gas-fired power plants to provide cleaner and safer energy to UK plc.”

Graphs - UK Nuclear New Build - Figure 1

Head of power and utilities at Ernst & Young Tony Ward said: “Big, tough decisions that benefit future generations and balance multiple needs are, and should be, hard to make – but that is precisely the role of government.  It is absolutely right and proper the government has taken a final opportunity to validate the deal arrangements, security and governance structures. After ten years of preparation and deliberation, it is now time to deliver.

“While technologies such as solar, wind and batteries will also be hugely important in delivering the UK’s future energy mix, new nuclear, starting with Hinkley Point, has a crucial role to play in displacing our reliance on fossil fuels. We are moving to a more balanced and diverse mix of zero-carbon power generation – a mix that will be capable of delivering reliable and robust base load power.”

With the government’s pledge to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2025 and a 76 terawatt hour “coal hole” to fill - the decision couldn’t have been more timely. In 2011, DECC estimated the UK needed to deliver around 50-59 gigawatts equivalent of energy capacity by 2025 to avoid an undersupply of energy. Game on.

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