The minister was joined by EDF’s chief executive at the plant in Somerset
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that Hinkley Point C will help protect the UK from “volatile” wholesale gas prices during a visit to the nuclear power plant in Somerset.
Mr Kwarteng praised the progress made during construction of the plant as he and exchequer secretary to the Treasury Helen Whately were shown around the site near Bridgwater on Thursday (January 13).
Jean-Bernard Levy, the chief executive of French energy giant EDF, which is delivering the project, accompanied the ministers during the visit. They were shown how work had continued despite challenges posed by the pandemic, including through an outbreak of Covid-19 at the plant in October 2020.
Hinkley Point C is one of the largest building projects in Europe and, when complete, it is hoped the plant will be able to generate low-carbon electricity for six million homes over 60 years.
The visit came as MPs approved the government’s new Nuclear Financing Bill, which introduces new laws to safeguard and help attract investment in future large-scale nuclear power projects.
EDF said the new financing scheme could help lower the costs of building new nuclear sites such as Sizewell C, EDF’s proposed £20bn nuclear plant in Suffolk which would replicate the design of Hinkley Point C.
The government has committed to putting nuclear at the heart of the UK’s future energy mix, along with wind and solar as it seeks to reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
It has invested £210m in plans from Rolls-Royce’s Small Modular Reactor business for the development of mini-nuclear power stations in the UK.
A senior Government official said in September 2021 that “exploratory” talks had been held with consortiums interested in building a new large nuclear plant in Anglesey.
Mr Kwarteng said that large-scale nuclear was the “only technology available to provide continuous, low-carbon electricity at scale.”
He said: “In order to strengthen Britain’s energy security and reduce our exposure to volatile global gas prices, we are firmly committed to deploying new nuclear, as seen through the construction of Hinkley Point C.
“To build on Hinkley Point C’s success, we’re backing the next generation of projects through our landmark Nuclear Bill. With a new funding model on the statute books, we will be able to attract British funds and other institutional investors to lower the cost of financing new nuclear power and, importantly, help to lower electricity bills for consumers and businesses.”
The chief executive of EDF UK, Simone Rossi, said the legislation’s passage through the House of Commons was “an important step” in securing the future of the UK nuclear industry and the country’s low-carbon energy supplies.
Mr Kwarteng and Ms Whately also met apprentices working on Hinkley Point C, with more than 850 trained so far as the project closes in on its target of 1,000 apprenticeships later this year.
According to figures released by EDF in May 2021, the project employs around 6,000 people with an additional 1,700 jobs expected to be created by May 2022. The scheme has so far seen more than £3.2bn spent with businesses in the South West.
In January last year, EDF said the start of electricity generation at Hinkley Point C would be delayed by six months to June 2026, and previous cost estimates of £21.5bn to £22.5bn revised up to between £22bn and £23bn.
It said the experience gained from building the first reactor unit at the site had allowed its teams to deliver the second “more efficiently”, with its liner ring being built 25% faster than the same part for unit one.
During a visit to the Hinkley Point C site in September to mark five years since full construction began, delivery director Nigel Cann told BusinessLive he was confident the plant could be a “cornerstone” in the UK achieving net-zero by 2050.