Boris Johnson approved funding for a new nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk in the final weeks of his premiership, but some of Liz Truss’ top allies are split over the decision.
Prime Minister and Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi approved funding for the construction of two new reactors called Sizewell C, raising private funds of around £20-30 billion.
However, Simon Clarke, another key Truss ally and Treasury minister, warned in a leaked letter to The Sunday Times that the decision could limit Truss’ economic vision.
In the letter, he said the costs of Sizewell C were “sufficient to materially affect the spending and budgetary choices of a new government, particularly in the context of wider pressures on public finances”.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Kwasi Kwarteng stressed the need to ‘continue with more nuclear power stations’ in order to increase Britain’s energy security.
It gave development approval for Sizewell C in July, but negotiations over the government’s investment decision were ongoing.
A Whitehall source says Boris Johnson made the decision to go ahead with Sizewell several weeks ago. However, he rejected the idea that the decision would tie the hands of the next prime minister, following reports that the Truss campaign feared it could be irreversible.
“In the coming weeks, we will announce a government investment decision on Sizewell C where the government formally commits to funding the project. It allows the project to raise private capital on the markets. But it is only at the time of the final investment decision in early 2023 that the government would formalize any equity participation. »
Johnson’s decision on Sizewell was challenged by a campaign to prevent construction of the nuclear reactor.
A campaign spokesperson, Stop Sizewell C, said: “Anyway you look at it, it’s a very dubious decision. Was it done by a lame prime minister who is not supposed to tie the hands of his successor, or was it done before Sizewell C got planning permission giving a serious weight to our belief that this was a damaging political decision?
“Our next prime minister should call Sizewell C. There are so many better ways to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money than on a project that won’t light a single light bulb for at least a decade.”
Truss did not take a clear position on Sizewell C, but last year alluded to concerns about the involvement of China’s state-owned energy company, CGN, as part of a consortium funding preparatory work for the nuclear plant. She told The Telegraph at the time: “I think it’s very important that we don’t become strategically dependent and I think it’s important that we make sure we’re working, particularly in the areas of national infrastructure reviews, with reliable partners.”
EDF, the French state-owned energy company, worked with CGN on the first phase of the project for a new nuclear power plant alongside Sizewell B, which is operational, and Sizewell A, which is being decommissioned. The UK government, however, is keen to appease CGN over concerns about Chinese involvement in sensitive assets.
Johnson’s government has already put together £100m of funding this year to support the development of Sizewell C.