De Rivaz confident on Hinkley despite Areva problems

Vincent De Rivaz, chief executive of EDF, reassured the audience at the Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference that the UK’s flagship nuclear new build project will not be derailed.

Recent problems have beset French compatriot and reactor developer, Areva, and speculation has grown that Chinese partners in the Hinkley Point nuclear plant development are seeking a bigger stake.
Vincent De Rivaz
Dismissing these concerns, De Rivaz was keen to assert that, although his company is still rigorously dealing with the documentation involved to completely seal the deal, he is confident of the outcome.

“We should be under no illusion that building new nuclear plants has ever been easy,” he told delegates. “Starting nuclear after a long pause is a challenge. You will have heard of Flamanaville where the EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) is being built “being moved back for a year. The reasons are not specific to design or operability.”

“We take the construction risk for Hinkley Point C ” not the customers. Let us be clear. The cost of Hinkley Point C has not increased by one penny as a result of the delays at Flamanville.”

Chinese Seeking Greater Influence in Hinkley Project

After impressing on the gathering that the true delays in a final decision by the company were down to the ‘higher than ever’ quality of evidence that must be exhibited in the documentation to be handed to the regulator, he addressed the subject of Chinese partners seeking more influence.

EDF is supposed to hold 45 to 50 per cent of the project, with Chinese partners CGN and CNNC at between 30 and 40 per cent and Areva at 10 per cent, however it appears these investers are seeking a greater share.

“There has been lots of speculation about negotiations with our Chinese partners, I can tell you they are progressing as expected. We are building on 30 years of relationships with our Chinese partners ” and of course we are talking to other developers from other countries with nuclear plans.”

While De Rivaz asserted his confidence that 60 per cent of the project could be developed in the UK, other speakers were less bullish about the country’s prospects, with a looming skills shortage on the horizon and fears that Britain may overstretch itself.

With Hinkley, Horizon and NuGen nuclear power projects in the offing, Andy Storer, Nuclear Programme Director at Rolls-Royce outlined his concerns at the lack of facilities for testing nuclear equipment.

“Everything must be qualified to UK specifications ” that presents a huge challenge for domestic and overseas suppliers. More equipment testing facilities are needed in the UK and we need groups of organisations pulling together to look at what capability we have as against what we might need.”

Loss of Nuclear Expertise

Meanwhile, Mike Tynan, chief executive of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Centre provided further reasons to be fearful about Britain’s capacity to meet its new build ambitions, saying that smaller companies in particular could struggle to meet the high standards required for a nuclear safety culture as well as product quality and skills.

“When we talk about people leaving the industry through retirement the statistics are frightening ” For every 100 people that leave, 100 might come in ” but those leaving equate to 2000 man years’ experience and a net loss of 1500 man years of experience, if you compare those with 20 years of experience compared to those with just five years or under. We have a challenge in how we transfer the knowledge, culture, standards and skills profiles.”

EDF’s final decision on Hinkley will be the key event in generating momentum towards being a global new build leader, Hergen Haye, the UK’s director of new nuclear projects, told delegates. He also reminded them of the cross party and public support the sector enjoyed, compared to other nations.

Demonstrating UK Nuclear’s Unique Selling Point

He added that the country had much to do in providing clarity to other nations on the prime benefits of using British nuclear expertise. He warned that other countries ‘don’t understand our offer’, adding ‘this is the added value. We can only really produce that offer if we lead by example ourselves.’

“A question often asked of me is if the UK is a country where others do nuclear or is it a nuclear country. I say yes, we are open for business for overseas to invest here and have confidence in our structures in building and decommissioning but there is a challenge too to see how we can work with these partners to build capability to have a seat at the top table and to be recognised as a nuclear country.

“Without that R&D base we will only be a country that does nuclear but is dependent on others.”

De Rivaz speaks at UK NIA Conference 2014à‚ 

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