The government has confirmed the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk will go ahead, backing the scheme with a £700m stake.

Ministers said the move, first announced in Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement, would create 10,000 highly skilled jobs, provide reliable low-carbon power to the equivalent of 6m homes for more than 50 years and would help secure UK energy security.

The government also said it would set up an arm’s-length body, Great British Nuclear, which would develop a pipeline of nuclear projects beyond Sizewell C.

The plant in Suffolk, developed by the French energy company EDF, will be the second of a new generation of UK nuclear power reactors, after the delayed Hinkley Point C scheme in Somerset, which is under construction but has experienced delays and climbing costs since it was first given the go-ahead.

The EDF chief executive, Simone Rossi, said replicating Hinkley Point C’s design at Sizewell would provide more certainty over schedule and costs, adding: “It will deliver another big boost to jobs and skills in the nuclear industry and provide huge new opportunities for communities in Suffolk.”

However, opponents of the scheme criticised the approval decision on cost and environmental grounds. The Greenpeace UK policy director, Doug Parr, said: “The launch of Great British Nuclear is clearly ironic as new nuclear is neither great nor British. Projects have been plagued by massive delays and ballooning costs while the government is seeking to have Sizewell C – a French-designed and built reactor – funded by foreign investment funds.

“It’s hard to work out what drives the government’s enthusiasm for new nuclear. It‘s not cheap, or clean, or necessary as there are better, quicker and less expensive options to deliver electricity. Not to mention that technology is steadily becoming available to cover the periods when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. On top of all that, there’s no value-for-money assessment available for Sizewell C so UK taxpayers are essentially buying it sight unseen.”

A spokesperson for the Stop Sizewell C campaign said: “Sizewell C can neither lower energy bills nor give the UK energy independence. Despite the government’s paltry £700m, there is still a huge amount of money to find, and no one is prepared to come clean about what the ultimate cost will be.”

The Sizewell announcement comes after ministers also set out plans to reduce energy demand by 15% by 2030, with a new £1bn Eco+ energy efficiency scheme, and a public awareness campaign – previously blocked under Liz Truss’s administration as being too “nanny state” – to help save energy this winter.

It also comes as Rishi Sunak is facing pressure, including from some Tory MPs, to U-turn on plans to keep the ban on onshore windfarms in England – one of the cheapest forms of energy.

The business and energy secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We need more clean, affordable power generated within our borders … today’s historic deal giving government backing to Sizewell C’s development is crucial to this, moving us towards greater energy independence.”

The Nuclear Industry Association chief executive, Tom Greatrex, hailed the announcement as “a defining moment for UK energy security”. He said: “Sizewell C will be one of the UK’s most important green energy projects ever, cutting fossil fuels, providing clean, affordable power for a very long time, and creating thousands of highly skilled jobs.

“This investment, alongside the support for Great British Nuclear and the energy security bill, shows the government is serious about building new nuclear capacity alongside renewables and paves the way for the development of a pipeline of new nuclear projects, including small modular reactors, to strengthen energy independence.”

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said: “Today’s investment in Sizewell C represents the biggest step on our journey to energy independence – the first state backing for a nuclear project in over 30 years.

“Once complete, this mega project will power millions of homes with clean, affordable, homegrown energy for decades to come.

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