The UK government has announced an investment of £1.3 billion into EDF Energy’s nuclear production plant, Sizewell C.
This marks the largest funding package to date for the project and nearly doubles the amount invested by the government thus far.
Sizewell C is a nuclear energy production plant currently about to begin construction after securing its development consent order (DCO) earlier this month (15 January) which also released £250 million in funding for local community and environment initiatives.
The site is located in Suffolk, near the existing and generating plant Sizewell B, which is also run and operated by EDF Energy.
In fact, this most recent funding package, allocated from existing budgets, is dedicated to improving local roads and rail lines, ensuring the necessary local infrastructure is in place before full construction begins.
The £1.3 billion investment also secures the UK government’s status as the majority shareholder in the project, which is important considering the plant has become a flagship site in the government’s mission to energy security.
Nuclear minister Andrew Bowie said: “We are making fantastic progress on the next GW-scale power plant in the UK’s nuclear pipeline. This investment injection means we can steam ahead with work on Sizewell C ahead of the final investment decision targeted later this year.
“It’s a win for our energy security and sends a strong message to investors that Britain is serious about its low-carbon, homegrown nuclear-powered future, providing reliable, cheaper power for British families.”
Julia Pyke and Nigel Cann, joint managing directors at Sizewell C, said: “This significant investment underlines the importance of Sizewell C for Britain and is a further sign of confidence in our team to deliver it. With the project now in construction, the funding means we can step up activity in Suffolk and deliver on our commitments to local communities.”
Investments into a nuclear future
Sizewell C has a storied history of receiving increasingly significant investments from the UK government, as well as often being the focal point for government plans regarding a domestic nuclear energy industry.
In terms of financial support, the first funding package of note was received in November 2022 to the tune of £700 million, dubbed as “historic” at the time.
Then, across two separate packages, the project was awarded a total of £511 million in July and August 2023, which coincided with the launch of Great British Nuclear (GBN), a government trade body focusing on the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).
Most recently, in January 2024, the government launched its biggest nuclear expansion in 70 years, with the Civil Nuclear Roadmap detailing the nation’s goal of achieving nuclear power generation to up to 24GW by 2050, quadrupling its current generation capacity.
The expansion commits to exploring another GW-scale power plant similar in scale to Sizewell C, as well as building a fleet of SMRs.
As is evident from GBN and the Civil Nuclear Roadmap, SMRs have become a crucial variable in the growth of nuclear energy production. This is because SMRs are much smaller and therefore considerably easier and cheaper to construct, plus they will still have a power capacity of up to 300MW per unit.
However, despite new technologies and a seemingly bottomless piggy bank in the form of the UK government, nuclear energy production is still met with hesitation and sometimes hostility in the renewable sector.
As a low-carbon energy source, it cannot be 100% renewable. There are carbon costs associated with the production of the technology and the issues surrounding nuclear waste.
Therefore, members of the industry often refer to fully renewable options, such as wind and solar, as potentially easier and cheaper alternatives to nuclear.
Speaking to Current± previously, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) Jess Ralston said: “A number of experts, including the Climate Change Committee, see a role for nuclear in removing gas from our power system, but with SMRs yet to be deployed and larger plants like Hinkley over-budget and delayed, it’s difficult to predict exactly what the costs and timescales might be for future endeavours. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said the high upfront costs of nuclear could leave us with a £170 billion bill.
“Despite slight cost increases given current inflation levels, British renewables will remain much cheaper than both gas and nuclear. There are questions over whether government has taken its eye off the ball for the current Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction round for wind farms, imposing too tight restrictions and so limiting the projects that might get built.”