Sizewell B starts with a whimper

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The Independent Online
More than 14 years in the building, authorised after Britain's longest public inquiry, the Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk finally started operating yesterday.

Its distinctive white-clad dome virtually invisible against the grey skies, the new reactor was almost unobtrusive alongside the ugly 1960s concrete shoebox of the less powerful Sizewell A. It was also curiously quiet for a machine that will within a month be pumping out 1,188 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 1.5 million people.

But the £2bn project held one last irony. Nuclear Electric, which inherited the project from the Central Electricity Generating Board, had invited Lord Wakeham to perform the opening ceremony.

However, while he may have been the Secretary of State for Energy responsible for continuing the project after the failure to privatise the nuclear industry in 1989 and is now worth millions to Rothschild's bank, Lord Wakeham is not an "authorised person" under the Nuclear Installations Act.

The only button he was allowed to push was one switching on a computer display.

The reactor, Britain's first American-style pressurised water reactor, did not go "critical" until the evening, long after Lord Wakeham, the press, and the visiting dignitaries had left.

Sizewell B was a brilliantly executed project, Lord Wakeham said. "I am keen that there is a long-term nuclear industry and that involves building nuclear power stations in future."

But he said funding would have to come from the private sector.

Nuclear Electric wants to build a twin-station replica of Sizewell B next to the new reactor.