Plans to build a new nuclear power station at Sellafield were advanced today after a consortium of energy firms bought land earmarked for the development.
Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE), along with French firm GDF Suez and Scottish Power’s Spanish owner Iberdrola, will pay at least £70m (€78m) for the new site, according to Britain's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).
The firms will now set out plans for a 3.6 gigawatt capacity power station, with construction set to begin in 2015, subject to planning approval.
The deal involves an upfront payment of £19.5m (€21.6m) for the 470-acre plot, followed by a further minimum of £50.5m (€56m) in the next six years.
In a statement from the consortium today, the firms said they had joined forces to participate in the UK’s new nuclear building programme.
The statement added that the firms recognised that “significant investments” would be needed to replace the country’s ageing nuclear and coal power plants which are nearing decommissioning.
Nuclear power also plays a part of UK government strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The land at Sellafield was nominated by the British government as part of its efforts to find sites suitable for new nuclear power stations and today’s deal follows similar sales of NDA land at Wylfa, on Anglesey in north Wales, Oldbury in South Gloucestershire and Bradwell in Essex (both in England).
NDA commercial director John Clarke said the deals together would generate £450m (€499m) which would be used to help the organisation’s efforts to clean up and decommission the UK’s existing nuclear power stations.
British energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: “These latest plans, together with the ambition of existing plans from two other operators, mean that new nuclear could power the equivalent of all 26 million homes in the UK.
“This sale is further proof that we’re giving industry the confidence to invest and that the UK is creating a successful low carbon economy.”
As part of the deal the consortium has pledged to draw up a plan for maximising the contribution of UK suppliers and workers.
Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE energy supply director, said: “Nuclear power is a tried and tested way of generating power that can help meet energy security and climate change objectives which we support.”
Nuclear power has provided many jobs in the Sellafield area, which has modelled itself as the “energy coast” and today’s announcement was met with approval from regional groups.
Brian Wilson, former British government energy minister and chairman of the Britain’s Energy Coast Board, said: “This is the news West Cumbria has been waiting for and paves the way for thousands of jobs in the construction phase and many highly skilled posts long into the future.”
Jamie Reed MP for Copeland, which includes the Sellafield site, said the move confirmed that West Cumbria was at the heart of the UK nuclear industry and provides optimism about the future for the region.
“This is a landmark announcement – the most important for our part of the world for decades,” he said.
But Greenpeace said the deal did not mean there would be a nuclear plant built in the area, suggesting there were “huge uncertainties” over the project.
Ben Ayliffe, head of the group’s nuclear campaign, said: “Cumbria talks of becoming the UK’s 'energy coast'.
“If they’re serious, the solutions are obvious: a focus on cutting-edge clean technologies like wind and combined heat and power, whilst ignoring lame-duck nuclear distractions.”