The UK government gave the green light to plans to build the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset today, but with a few revised conditions which should help allay its security concerns.
The widely-watched decision has so far received a mixed reception across business and politics. While supporters applauded the project's ability to create jobs and ensure the UK's future energy security, critics lambasted the huge costs involved.
Dr Adam Marshall, BCC Acting Director General, hoped that the decision would usher in a new era of sustained investment in energy generation and transmission.
Decades of dithering on energy infrastructure have left the UK playing catch-up. This decision must be the first of many, with new nuclear, renewables, gas and shale investment all critical to meeting the needs of businesses and consumers.
While there will always be debate around the cost of major projects, the price of inaction is larger still. Other energy projects across the UK should also be approved in the months ahead, given their vital importance to both local economies and national prosperity.
Businesses will be looking to the Prime Minister to take more big decisions to progress runways, railways, energy and broadband schemes — all of which are critical to the success of her planned industrial strategy.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said it was "welcome news" for the UK's nuclear supply chain.
The prime minister’s decision to agree to the Hinkley Point C contract is welcome news for the UK’s nuclear supply chain who are ready to deliver this important national infrastructure project, providing reliable, constant electricity as part of a balanced mix for the future.
The positive industrial impact of this project will be enormous with contracts already in place for Welsh steel, pumps made by Scottish companies and nuclear components from across England’s industrial belt. Hinkley is a truly national project which represents an array of opportunities for the supply chain and a secure foundation for the government’s industrial strategy.
The benefits of nuclear power are clear and the government, trade unions, industry and energy experts are right that it is an important part of the UK’s energy mix. Hinkley will be the first to get shovels in the ground, but we need to secure our energy future and bring more low carbon power to the grid.
Claire Jakobsson, head of climate and environment policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said that the government's decision would have mixed implications for the industry:
This announcement provides some positive news for industry. With Hinkley C being such a major part of the government’s energy strategy it is a relief to finally see the project given the green light after months of delays and uncertainty. It is encouraging to see investment in major UK infrastructure projects continuing to go ahead.
However, this project will clearly require a vast amount of support and it remains to be seen whether this deal is able to offer value for money. If new nuclear is to continue to play a major role we must see significant reductions in strike prices for future projects.
With such a large amount of subsidy going into this project it is essential that the government ensures the opportunities for the UK economy are maximised, particularly for manufacturers. Within the deal is a commitment to keep 60 per cent of the value of the project within the UK. We must now ensure this is delivered.
John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, blasted the government's decision due to the project's controversies to-date and its poor value for money:
It's deeply disappointing that the government is pressing ahead with this deal which combines huge risk with spectacularly bad value for money. The technology to be used is unproven and projects using the same reactor are years behind schedule and massively over budget.
All the signs are there that this project will be a hugely expensive failure but we seem to be continuing with the failed policies of the past, saddling consumers with exorbitant bills in the process
Matthew Sykes, power and nuclear manager at Spencer Ogden, a global energy, engineering, and infrastructure recruitment business, said that the boost to the engineering sector will be significant:
Many of the entities involved in the Hinkley project are from overseas: the owner/developer EDF, the Nuclear Island EPC Areva, the conventional island equipment supplier Alstom.
These companies and others involved in the supply chain will bring some expertise and workforce with them, however the project as a whole will have strict targets on local employment it has to adhere to; of course this includes non-engineering roles.
However, due to the current downturn in the oil & gas market I believe we may see many of the engineers previously working in this industry make the move over to nuclear.
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, slammed today's decision as "absurd" and said that the huge sums involved would be better spent of developing renewable energy sources:
It is truly absurd that the government plans to plough billions of taxpayers' money into this vastly overpriced project, and has done so without informing parliament of the true costs. It is even more absurd that they are doing so at the same time as reducing support for cheaper, safer and more reliable alternatives
Instead of investing in this eye-wateringly expensive white-elephant, the government should be doing all it can to support offshore wind, energy efficiency and innovative new technologies, such as energy storage.
Labour’s position on Hinkley is deeply disappointing. On the one hand they say that they want a decentralised energy system, yet they now back the building of this hugely overpriced, centralised piece of energy infrastructure.