THE BLOG

A New Generation of Nuclear

20/03/2013 12:10 GMT | Updated 20/05/2013 10:12 BST

Yesterday, I gave planning permission for the construction of the first new nuclear power station for a generation. It is planned that Hinkley Point C in Somerset will host two new reactors generating low carbon electricity for up to five million homes; sustain around 25,000 jobs during construction, and play an important role in cutting climate change emissions.

My job as energy and climate change secretary is to both power the country and protect the planet. Nuclear power delivers on both of these objectives. I'm determined to use all of my powers to make sure that Britain leads the way in sourcing the energy we need from low carbon sources. That way, we can reduce the damaging emissions that are affecting our planet, whilst ensuring we are able to keep the lights on and protect consumers from increasing energy bills.

I am one of those from the green movement who recognises the low carbon benefits of nuclear generation. Alongside energy efficiency, renewables and abatement, I believe safe nuclear power, with manageable waste, can play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as long as it is cost competitive with other low carbon generation.

The nuclear power that has been a part of the UK's energy mix for over half a century currently generates around 19% our electricity. But most of the existing nuclear power stations are set to close in ten years. Britain's other energy infrastructure is ageing too. All told a fifth of capacity has to close by the end of this decade. So we need to fill the gap.

We need £110billion of investment to upgrade our energy system. That's the equivalent cost to building ten new euro-tunnels, or a new Olympics each and every year. Britain's energy infrastructure challenge makes up half of the UK government's entire infrastructure pipeline. This is a huge challenge, but if we can get Britain building again, it means tens of thousands of new jobs, stimulating growth. And this will be green growth and green jobs. Tapping into the growing global market worth £3.3trillion. With the Energy Bill going through parliament now creating the market arrangements to attract all this investment, including into nuclear power, Britain has become the place to invest in low carbon energy in Europe, and arguably the world.

As for the challenge of any new nuclear programme, we have taken them head on. The UK's coalition government believes we can't afford to turn our back on any technology or energy source that has the capacity to both generate electricity and cut carbon emissions. But with nuclear, we can't afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. It is not nuclear power at any price. New nuclear must be safe, we must have a plan to deal with the waste, and it must produce affordable energy. This means getting the best deal for consumers and British business when negotiating with the power companies. New nuclear will receive no levy, direct payment or market support for electricity supplied or capacity provided, unless similar support is also made available more widely to other types of generation. And the cost of clean-up and disposal of nuclear waste will, for the first time in the UK, be met by the industry in the future.

My decision yesterday on Hinkley was based on planning issues only and there is still some way to go before the whole nuclear new build programme is secure. I will only grant consent to future individual new nuclear projects if, as was the case with Hinkley Point C, I am satisfied that the there are no unacceptable impacts on the environment or local communities. But if we can finally give the go-ahead to Hinkley it will represent an important milestone in the process to create a future of low-carbon energy generation, contributing to the UK's energy security, helping protect consumers from volatile fossil fuel prices and tackling climate change at the same time.