KWasi Kwarteng overturned the authorities’ decision and granted planning permission for the Sizewell C nuclear power station despite fears it would reduce the water supply available to households.
The Business Secretary approved the plan on Wednesday against the Planning Inspectorate’s recommendation, arguing that “the very great and urgent need for the proposal outweighs the damage”.
He highlighted the government’s plan to boost Britain’s energy security with a new generation of nuclear reactors and said Sizewell C would make a “substantial contribution” to that goal.
However, the decision faces a potential legal challenge following warnings that the area of Suffolk in which the plant will be built lacks the necessary water supply and that habitats will be damaged.
Essex and Suffolk Water warned they could not meet the combined needs of households, other customers and Sizewell C with existing water supplies.
Allison Downes, spokeswoman for campaign group Stop Sizewell C, said critics of the scheme were ‘scrutinizing’ Mr Kwarteng’s decision and could seek a judicial review.
Activists have six weeks to challenge Mr Kwarteng’s decision.
Ms Downes: ‘The Government have been forced to carry out a damaging scheme to shore up their energy strategy, but the fact that the Planning Inspectorate has recommended that Sizewell C be refused consent is a huge win for us all.
“The wrong decision has been made, but this is not the end of our campaign to stop Sizewell C. Not only will we be looking closely at whether to appeal this decision, but we will continue to challenge all aspects of Sizewell C , because – whether it’s the consumer impact, the massive costs and delays, the pending technical issues, or the environmental impacts – it’s still a bad project and a very bad risk.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust also said they were “disappointed” by the decision.
Ben McFarland, head of conservation at the trust, said: ‘We maintain this is not a suitable location, it is far too important for wildlife.
Sizewell C, which would produce enough electricity to power six million homes, has been proposed by French giant EDF and is expected to cost around £20bn.
It would be completed in the early 2030s, becoming the second nuclear power station built in the UK since Sizewell B opened in 1995.
The other is Hinkley Point C, which is expected to come online in 2027.
Nuclear power plants have become a key pillar of the government’s energy security strategy, with ministers hoping they will eventually produce 25% of the country’s electricity.
They are also seen by many experts as an essential part of plans to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said the granting of planning approval was “a huge step forward for Britain’s energy security and its net zero ambitions”.
He said: “Sizewell C will provide reliable, low-carbon energy for over 80 years, reducing gas consumption, creating thousands of high-quality skilled jobs, and long-term investment and opportunity in all the countries.”
However, in a report to Mr Kwarteng, the Planning Inspectorate said approval for the plant should not have been granted unless the problems of water supply and habitats had been resolved.
Sizewell C would have two pressurized water reactors, compared to Sizewell B which has one, which means more water will be needed to cool the plant. A supply will also be needed for construction.
However, Northumbrian Water, which owns Essex and Suffolk Water, says local supplies in Blyth are currently not sufficient to meet the needs of the plant during construction or operation.
The electricity company has agreed with EDF that the problem can be solved during construction by drawing salt water from the ocean with a temporary desalination plant.
But in order to secure a permanent water supply for the completed plant, Northumbrian may need to transport water from another catchment area in Suffolk.
No suitable supply has yet been identified, although options include a new pipeline that would divert water from the Waveney River, importing supplies from neighborhood suppliers, reusing sewage and creating new reservoirs .
If these proposals fail, EDF has suggested considering the construction of a permanent desalination plant.
Mr Kwarteng’s decision said he had taken concerns into account but believed the various water supply options “represent potentially viable solutions…as does the withdrawal of the permanent desalination plant”.
“The Secretary of State is therefore satisfied that if consent is granted, there is a reasonable level of certainty that a permanent water supply solution can be found,” the decision added.
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