25 years on, Sizewell B nuclear power station continues to produce vital low carbon energy
Sizewell B nuclear power station is celebrating 25 years of safely generating low carbon electricity. EDF’s Director of Nuclear Development, Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, writes that the anniversary comes at a critical moment for the industry.
25 years ago, Sizewell B nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast quietly came to life. As an employee put it at the time, it simply ‘floated’ into service without bells or alarms or sudden movements of the instrument dials.
Since then, Sizewell B has safely helped to keep the lights on in millions of homes and its low carbon power has saved around 76million tonnes of CO2 from being pumped into the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of keeping all petrol and diesel cars off UK roads for over a year. The engineers who built and operated it can be proud of the contribution they have made to the UK’s vital requirement for low carbon energy.
For all the benefits it brought, Sizewell B was the last nuclear power station to be constructed in the UK for a generation. Plans for a follow-on project were discussed then shelved and the opportunity was missed. But 25 years on, as we once again face critical decisions about how to power the UK, the case for new nuclear is as strong as ever.
Nuclear provides low carbon power around the clock whatever the weather. Its reliable energy can support the massive expansion in renewables needed to get to ‘net zero’ emissions, which the UK is committed to reaching by 2050. Nuclear will also help to lower costs to consumers as the UK moves away from polluting fossil fuels. It is a vital part of the energy mix needed to fight climate change.
That’s why it was so important that Hinkley Point C in Somerset got the go-ahead a little over three years ago. When it is completed, Hinkley Point will provide around 7% of the UK’s electricity needs and replace part of the capacity we will lose as existing nuclear power stations close down. The project is making great progress and is relaunching the UK nuclear supply chain. It is pumping £14bn into the UK economy and providing opportunities for more than 2,000 businesses across the country.
Hinkley Point has opened a new chapter for UK nuclear and means we can take the opportunity that was missed more than 25 years ago to build a follow-on project at Sizewell. By making a direct copy of Hinkley Point in Suffolk, we can reduce construction costs and the project can benefit from lower cost financing. Consumers will gain in the long-run through lower energy bills.
Sizewell C will also offer similar industrial benefits as Hinkley Point, safeguarding thousands of jobs and businesses and creating new opportunities as well. A strengthened nuclear industry will create opportunities for the UK to export skills and expertise, and will be a foundation for other potential nuclear technologies like Small Modular Reactors.
A lot of work has already been done to prepare the way for Sizewell C. We have consulted local people in Suffolk, revised our plans and in due course we will make our application for a Development Consent Order. The Government has also consulted on a possible model to lower the financing costs for nuclear projects. A definitive way forward on financing this year would ensure we can maximise the benefits of replicating the design at Hinkley Point C.
When Sizewell B was being built in the 1990s, the lead engineer for the project, Brian George said the contractors who had worked on the power station had “earned an opportunity to show what they can do with the follow-ons. To abandon this national investment does not make sense.” As ministers consider the energy policy needed to get to ‘net zero’ emissions, they might wish to reflect on his words.