by Simone Protheroe, senior associate, Clarke Willmott LLP
In 2016 EDF’s board of directors made the final investment decision to sign off all the contracts and agreements necessary to build two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point C in Somerset.
The landmark decision to build the UK’s first large-scale nuclear energy plant since Sizewell B in 1995 was welcomed for many reasons.
In addition to generating 7 per cent of the UK’s low carbon energy needs for around 6 million homes for over 60 years, this once-in-a-generation opportunity will provide economic growth locally, regionally and nationally.
With a plan to create 25,000 high-skilled jobs and 1,000 apprenticeships in its construction, two-thirds of contracts will be awarded to UK companies and there will be significant investment in local socio-economic projects. Long term, Hinkley Point C will provide a reliable base layer of emission free energy for the UK.
While there have been some time delays in construction for various reasons, including the Covid-19 pandemic, good progress is being made. One important aspect, which in light of the rising cost of living is worth a special mention, is that while there have been increases in build cost this burden will not be passed on to the taxpayer, as the unit strike price was agreed at the beginning of the contract.
This first major project in Somerset aims to kick start the renaissance in new nuclear energy, generating at least 20 per cent of all UK energy needs.
Sizewell in Suffolk, Bradwell in Essex and Wylfa, at Anglesey in north Wales, have all been discussed with plans submitted as potential sites for large scale nuclear energy plants building on the legacy of existing plants at these locations.
From an energy security perspective nuclear is considered an essential element in the low carbon energy mix due to its longevity and security. As the UK reduces its reliance on fossil fuels to reach net zero by 2050, the shortfall cannot be generated solely from established renewable energy sources such as solar and wind due to the intermittence of sun and wind at certain times.
What is more, when the decision to build Hinkley Point C was made, the energy white paper emphasising the need for large-scale nuclear had not been published and the UK had not committed to net zero by 2050. Meanwhile the war in Ukraine – radically affecting the supply of Russian gas exports – has brought energy security into sharp focus.
Following a long and rigorous process the government approved the application for a Development Consent Order for the Sizewell C project in July this year. This, combined with Hinkley Point C, will provide nearly 14 per cent of UK energy requirements for several decades. While the green light for EDF to start building in earnest is subject to funding, it can only be a matter of time if reliance on imported energy is to be reduced.
Since 2016 I have been actively involved with the Hinkley Point C project in supporting various Tier 1 contractors – both site operators and engineering firms – in helping them to secure and deliver their contracts, working with colleagues across various specialist areas of Clarke Willmott including corporate, commercial and my area of construction.
And having been born in the South East and living close to Sizewell, I can see the benefits that building this new facility will bring in terms of economic prosperity and energy security and I look forward to helping contractors achieve their aspirations over the coming months and years.
In addition to Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C the emerging opportunity of small modular reactors (SMR) should not be forgotten.
In the UK this technological development is arguably being led by Rolls-Royce, but as with all nuclear energy it must be safe, deliverable, scalable and cost competitive for it to be widely embraced. The Rolls-Royce SMR technology has multiple applications, from traditional grid and industrial electricity production to hydrogen and synthetic fuel manufacturing.
This new technology, along with large new scale nuclear, can drive long-term energy security for this country and it will be interesting to see what announcements are made in relation to this in the next Budget.
Clarke Willmott is a national law firm with offices in Southampton, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, London and Taunton.
For more information visit www.clarkewillmott.com.
Simone Protheroe is a senior associate in the construction team at Clarke Willmott.