Energy secretary says proposed new nuclear plant is ‘essential’
There is a “very good prospect” of a decision to build Britain’s first new nuclear plant finally being taken later this year, Amber Rudd, the energy secretary has said.
Despite mounting doubts about EDF’s proposed Hinkley Point power station, Ms Rudd told MPs on Tuesday she believed it was “essential” that the project go ahead.
Ms Rudd told MPs on the energy select committee: “We hope the decision will be made later on this year. We are very committed as a government to making sure that we build new nuclear and Hinkley Point will be the first of those.
“Old nuclear is coming off and I think we need as much investment as we can procure in order to support new nuclear.”
Protracted negotiations between EDF and Government over subsidies for Hinkley resulted in a headline deal in October 2013 but details are still being ironed out, while investments from Chinese nuclear partners are yet to be finalised and financial turmoil at reactor-maker Areva has caused further problems.
Ms Rudd said: “I haven’t got the scars of the past three to four years, or two and half years, as my permanent secretary may have in terms of taking forward that negotiation, but I have met the parties involved in the past 10 weeks and it looks to me like there is a very good prospect of it reaching a happy conclusion later this year.”
Image: Illustration of the proposed Hinkley Point C (EDF Energy)
EDF laid off hundreds of construction workers earlier this year as preparatory work at the Somerset site ground to a halt and Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow energy minister, wrote to Ms Rudd last month urging her to “admit the project will not proceed and inform Parliament what your alternative energy strategy will be”.
But Ms Rudd told MPs: “This is going to be the first new nuclear plant in over 20 years so it is essential to me that we succeed in it.”
A legal challenge from Austria to the EU’s state aid approval for Hinkley subsidies, while “very unwelcome”, was not expected to affect the final investment decision being taken later this year, she said.
Ms Rudd, who said value for money was her top priority in the department, rejected suggestions she was “secretly having regrets” about the subsidy terms agreed by the Coalition, which will see consumers on the hook to pay roughly double the current market price of power for 35 years.
Ms Rudd suggested the price was worth it because nuclear was reliable, unlike renewables. “We have to have secure base-load, so you should not be surprised that we are prepared to pay more for that in order to ensure nuclear is part of the mix. The requirement for nuclear is absolute,” she said.
However, future nuclear plants were expected to come in more cheaply, she said.