Boris Johnson uses his last major speech as Prime Minister to announce £700m nuclear funding

Image: Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Johnson visited Sizewell in Suffolk this morning (September 1) to deliver a short speech, then delivered a longer televised speech in the afternoon from London. As expected, much of the focus was on the energy price crisis and the government’s plans to increase low-carbon electricity generation.

After weeks of speculation that Johnson was ready to approve new funding for EDF’s Sizewell C nuclear power station – or, perhaps, had already done so without consulting ministers – he confirmed today that the government had pledged £700 million for the project.

Johnson said ‘we need to take our national finger off and continue with Sizewell C’, adding: ‘Over the next few weeks I’m absolutely confident he’ll cross the line, and we’ll get him over the line because that would be hard work. absolute madness not to do so.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng granted development permission for the project in late July, saying there was a “very significant and urgent need” for the plant in the face of the energy trilemma, which regardless of concerns about the facility’s impacts on local nature and its water footprint.

The government had already pledged to take a 20% stake in the £20 billion project. The lead investor and developer, EDF, is also expected to take a 20% stake. Investment for the remaining 60% is still being sought, it is understood.

Some groups, including Prospect Union, hoped Johnson would be able to confirm an investment decision before his successor was elected on Sept. 5. The Union’s principal deputy general secretary, Sue Ferns, has accused the Tories of “painfully slow progress” in nuclear development over the past decade. Similarly, GMB National Secretary Andy Prendergast said the announcement was “a step in the right direction”.

Other organisations, which campaigned against Sizewell C, argued that the government would be better off investing in insulation and renewable energy, which can be deployed more quickly. Construction at Sizewell C is expected to take at least nine years.

Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said: ‘This money could insulate a lot of drafty homes and cut next year’s bills, instead of being thrown on the fire of slow-burning financial joy that is EDF, to raise our bills for decades… The contrast between these ponderous white elephants and the dynamic, economical and innovative technologies of the renewable energy sector could not be starker. »

Johnson said: “No more national myopia, no more short-sightedness – let’s think about the future, let’s think about our children and our grandchildren, the next generation.”

A future without fracking?

Johnson has also used his platform to encourage his successor to look into renewables and not lift Britain’s ban on fracking in the face of the current price crisis.

He said: “I say to anyone who thinks hydrocarbons are the only answer, we should do fracking and stuff, offshore wind is now the cheapest form of electricity in this country. L Offshore wind is nine times cheaper than gas.

The comments were undoubtedly aimed at his successor. Frontrunner Liz Truss has been very pro-fossil fuel and largely anti-renewables during her campaign, especially solar power. Truss, who worked for Shell between 1996 and 2000, said she was against the current windfall tax on oil and gas majors and said she would allow fracking in areas where local communities support it. She also made headlines this week when she spoke of approving more than 100 new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea – a proposal criticized by climate scientists.

Like Truss, Sunak said he would allow fracking in places with local support. There is currently a ban on the practice, after people in Lincolnshire experienced tremors linked to local operations. Kwarteng asked the British Geological Survey to assess whether processes could be adapted to reduce earthquake risk and environmental impact. Under Truss he would probably become chancellor.

Discussions of energy efficiency were notably absent from Johnson’s speech, despite growing calls for intervention. Twitter users were quick to argue that Johnson’s call for people to buy a new kettle to cut their electric bills this winter is misplaced. Ofgem confirmed last month that the household energy price cap will rise by 80% in October, mainly due to high gas prices.

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