The UK government has initiated formal talks with Electricite de France over the construction of a nuclear power plant at Sizewell on the eastern coast of England.
Sizewell C, which is estimated to cost 20 billion pounds (US$26.8 billion), is an exact copy of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station that EDF is already building in Somerset, southwestern England, which involves China General Nuclear (CGN) as an equity partner.
CGN also holds a 20% development phase stake in Sizewell C, with an option to participate in the project. But given the current poor state of relations between Beijing and London, there are questions about further Chinese involvement.
According to London, negotiations with EDF Energy cover financing, tariffs and a possible UK government equity stake.
The 3.2GW Sizewell C would generate 7% of the UK’s electricity demand. Nuclear power currently generates around 20% of the country's electricity, but this comes mostly from old nuclear plants that are due to close by 2035. Additional nuclear power generation is viewed as important in order to meet the country's climate change targets under the Paris Agreement.
An agreement with EDF would be subject to a range of approvals on areas such as value for money and affordability, the government says. Greenpeace insists Sizewell C is “unnecessary and remains expensive”.
Work on the project could begin in 2024. But EDF would like to start in early 2022, which would allow the company to transfer staff and equipment from Hinkley.
Ministers say they will explore the possibility of taxpayer funding for the plant’s construction. They will also consider approving a “regulated asset base” funding model under which households and businesses would start paying for the project via their energy bills while it was still under construction.
The move to begin talks with EDF came as the UK government published an energy white paper, which sets out plans to generate "emission-free electricity" by 2050 by installing low-carbon heating such as hydrogen or heat pumps in homes.
The paper follows the government's ten-point plan for a "green industrial revolution", under which offshore wind capacity would be quadrupled to 40GW by 2030.
Ministers are particularly keen to have a new set of targets in place ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November 2021. The UK is hosting the conference in Glasgow.
The country is legally committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Meanwhile, construction work is well advanced at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. This project is owned 67% by EDF and 33% by CGN.
Last week the world's largest crane lifted the first 382-tonne prefabricated steel containment ring into the reactor dome.
The twin-unit EPR (pressurized water) plant will be capable of generating 3,260MW of electricity for 60 years.