Boris Johnson has given the green light to the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk, promising £700m of government funding for the project.
He confirmed the move during a speech from the site in one of his final acts as prime minister – and amid the rising cost of living crisis – saying he was “absolutely confident it will get over the line” in the next few weeks.
The government has previously said the £20bn power plant would take just under a decade to build and could power six million homes.
Mr Johnson is due to be replaced as prime minister next week when either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss is announced as his successor.
Politics live: Boris Johnson makes £700m promise as time in office draws to a close
In his speech, the PM praised the history of nuclear discoveries in the UK, but asked “what happened to us?” – claiming British nuclear energy was in “paralysis”.
He decried the “short termism” that he said led to no new nuclear power plants being built in the UK in nearly 30 years, while the likes of France had built four in the same timeframe.
And he criticised past leaders of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats – though not mentioning his own party’s time in office – saying it had been “a chronic case of politicians not being able to see beyond the political cycle” and choosing to invest.
Mr Johnson said his government’s British energy security strategy was “rectifying the chronic mistakes of the past and taking the long term decisions that it needs”, adding: “We need to pull our national finger out and get on with Sizewell C.
“This project will create tens of thousands of jobs, it will also power six million homes – that is roughly a fifth of all the homes in the UK – so it’ll help to fix the energy needs, not just of this generation but of the next.”
Earlier this week, the Financial Times reported that by taking a stake in Sizewell C, the government would give confidence to investors about the country’s commitment to new nuclear power stations.
The newspaper also said French state-owned EDF, the project developer, is set to take stake too as part of efforts to remove a Chinese state-backed nuclear energy company from the project.
But campaign group Stop Sizewell said the power station was a “vanity project” for the PM that his successor should “consign to the bin”.
They added: “When every penny matters, it’s totally wrong to shackle the next prime minister and billions in taxpayers’ money to this damaging project, whose ballooning cost, lengthy construction, failure-prone technology and long term water supply are so uncertain.”
Mr Johnson said there was “no cultural aversion to nuclear power” in the UK, and the campaign group – who protested outside the site ahead of his speech – we an example of “pure nimbyism”.
He added: “A baby born this year will be getting energy from Sizewell C long after she retires and this new reactor is just a part of our Great British nuclear campaign.”