Discussions with EDF come at same time as publication of energy white paper

The government has started talks with French energy giant EDF about the construction of the £20bn Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said negotiations over the scheme, which has come under fire from campaigners for its hefty price tag, would be subject to agreeing a value-for-money deal before a final decision to proceed can be taken.

It added that the conclusion of the talks would be put under “thorough scrutiny” in order to satisfy the government’s “robust legal, regulatory and national security requirements”.

Plans for the plant, which will be a near replica of EDF’s Hinkley Point C in Somerset, were lodged in May after a two-month delay caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

If approved, the 3.2 gigawatt plant could generate up to 7% of the UK’s energy needs and create thousands of construction jobs.

Sizewell C

Sizewell C is the lighter grey site on the right

Chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association Tom Greatex welcomed the talks, calling the plant a “vital next step towards the net zero power mix we need for the future”.

He added that the project will “provide thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid and long-term jobs across the supply chain, at a time when they are badly needed”.

The news came alongside publication of the government’s energy white paper, which sets out the steps to be taken over the next decade to reach its carbon-cutting targets.

Measures include providing 40 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which the government said would be enough to power every home in the UK, and exploring financing options for more nuclear schemes.

The strategy also includes investing £1bn in carbon capture storage in four industrial clusters over the next 10 years, with at least one fully net zero cluster to be established by 2040.

The government claim that the strategy will support up to 220,000 jobs over the next decade, including long-term roles in major infrastructure schemes for power generation and the ongoing £3bn Green Homes Grant retrofit scheme, which was extended by a year last month.

Marie-Claude Hemming, director of external affairs at the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said the white paper was ”a revolutionary step towards securing the UK’s net zero future, and is an important milestone on the journey towards decarbonisation the UK must take in coming years”.

CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said it would “give firms further confidence to deliver new infrastructure”. He added: “Action is needed now, and the welcome focus on job creation around the country, developing sustainable low-carbon industries, and ensuring the transition is fair for consumers will all help us achieve our climate goals.”

The white paper follows Boris Johnson’s announcement earlier this month that he wants to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, 15% more than the previous target of 53%.