While advocates of nuclear power are confident the Hinkley Point project will proceed past intended Austrian roadblocks, there is still a degree of uncertainty among qualified observers as to how the story will eventually unfold.
The UK government was reported to have used diplomatic channels to step up pressure on Vienna to drop a legal challenge to its new nuclear power plans last week.
Austria is set to challenge the European Commission on the legal basis for the UK’s guaranteed price for power from nuclear plants, however pro-nuclear groups are confident that this will have no bearing on the ultimate decision.
A spokesperson for the department of energy and climate change told Power Engineering International, “The UK is confident that the State aid case for Hinkley Point C is legally robust and we will vigorously support the European Commission in defence of its decision last year. This brings us one step closer to seeing new nuclear as part of our future low carbon energy mix.
“‘We have no reason to believe that Austria, or any other party, is preparing a case which has any merit.
“We are confident in the Hinkley Point C project – EDF still expects the power station to come online around 2023. The European Commission’s positive State aid decision in October was a big vote of confidence for the project as the Government and EdF continue to work together on finalising the full terms of the Contract for Difference and the financing arrangements, which includes support from the UK Guarantee.”
The country’s main nuclear lobby, NIA UK, are equally bullish on a positive outcome from the challenge, despite some commentators holding that it will at least greatly add to the country’s expense in getting the project off the ground.
Their spokesperson told PEi, “The Hinkley Point C project has been through a huge level of scrutiny both in the UK and at an EU level. Developing a new generation of nuclear plants was never going to be easy and EDF Energy has made a huge amount of progress on getting approval for the reactor, securing planning permission and preparing the site. They and government are now working hard to finalise all agreements on HPC which will allow a final investment decision in the next few months. We now stand on the cusp of the largest investment into the UK ever – creating jobs and reinvigorating the UK supply chain.”
There is also confidence in some legal quarters that any decision is likely to go nuclear’s way. Jeffrey Merrifield of global legal firm Pillsbury and a former Clinton administration appointee to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Power Engineering International, “Let me preface by saying I am an expert on European law, but I would say obviously the UK government is taking this seriously. They don’t have the benefit of many internal sources of energy to cover all their needs so nuclear power has been and will continue to be a very important source of the UK’s energy security.”
“Despite the approach of Austria and Germany who do not seem to like nuclear power, it continues to play a critically important part in meeting the overall global warming targets in the European Union, including the UK, so to say this is not a viable source of power is simply not in accordance with the facts. And I think in the end, consistent with other approaches taken before, this will settle itself out and the UK government will prevail in its efforts to move forward with Hinkley and others.”
Washington, DC-based Merrifield also expressed disagreement with the Austrian contention that nuclear power, being a mature technology, should not be receiving support, that should be the preserve of newer technologies such as wind or solar.
“Because of the nature of the type of design and the length of the process in getting them built, the fact that some of these types of designs are new and have not been built in that precise form before, the need for appropriate government support is certainly there.”
“In the end I think there is demonstration that there is a need to have large sources of carbon-free generation to meet EU expectations for (combatting) global warming and there is no better form of carbon-free generation than nuclear power. Try as they might, wind and solar are not going to be a panacea for meeting those requirements and nuclear has and will continue to be a very critical source of that carbon-free generation.”
Not everyone buys into that consensus that the Hinkley Point project will be allowed to continue unimpeded.
Speaking to Foreign Policy website, Raphael Heffron, a nuclear expert at the Centre for Integrated Energy Research at the University of Leeds said there is possibility for disruption.
“I would think it’s something that could imperil the timeline for Hinkley Point, and I suppose that’s the Austrian objective. The longer the delay, the greater the cost,” he said.
Paul Dorfman, a nuclear energy expert at the Energy Institute at University College London told the same site, “It seems clear that there’s a case of market distortion here, and that’s significant for the rest of Europe. If this goes through, you’re messing with the European internal energy market and you’re messing with the state aid rules as well.”
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