EDF’s board of directors has majority approved a final investment decision to go ahead with the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project in, Somerset, southwestern England.
According to France Info and other French media sources, the project has been officially launched thanks to 10 votes in favour of proceeding, with seven against.
Late on Thursday evening came news of another twist in the tale of this beleagured project, when Business Secretary Greg Clark indicated there would be another delay.
He said the government will “consider carefully” before backing it.
According to reports, EDF’s chief executive Vincent de Rivaz has cancelled a trip to the UK on Friday following Mr Clark’s comments.
Critics of the plan have warned of environmental damage and potential escalating costs.
Earlier news emerged that one board director, Gerard Magnin, had resigned from the board in protest against the riskiness of going ahead with the project, as well as the continuing prioritisation of nuclear power by the company, at the expense of renewables.
The project was first announced as a prospect in 2008 and has had to overcome a great number of obstacles to reach this juncture.
The construction costs for the plant are set to top £18bn and on completion will provide 7 per cent of the country’s electricity. Hinkley Point C will be powered by two 1.6GW EPR nuclear reactor units. It will be the first nuclear power station to be built in the UK for more than 20 years and once built will operate for 60 years.
EPR reactors are an evolution of the pressurised water reactor technology as used at Sizewell B and in 58 nuclear reactors owned by EDF in France. They have enhanced safety features with quadruple safety systems. They are more efficient and produce less long-lived radioactive waste compared with existing water reactors. They also use less uranium.
The UK is facing a critical time in its energy future. By 2025 over 40 per cent of the UK’s older power stations are expected to close while demand for electricity is expected to rise. While the need for new capacity such as what the Hinkley project offers is acute, detractors point to the strike price agreed to fund the project and argue that a mix of gas and renewables or smaller modular nuclear reactors as well as energy efficiency measures might be more suitable and less expensive.
The UK government has guaranteed a price of £92.50 per megawatt hour for the electricity Hinkley produces for 35 years – more than double the current price. But the cost of wholesale energy has fallen since the price was agreed, leaving the government to make up the difference.
The UK’s National Audit Office estimated future top-up payments would rise from £6.1bn to £29.7bn over the length of the contract.
Recently, Chancellor Philip Hammond said the scheme was “still worth the cost”, with the Government suggesting that customers’ bills would rise by about £10 once the plant was up and running.
Despite concerns about cost the plant does complement the government’s low carbon energy strategy.
Strong challenges have however been made by Austria and Luxembourg to the project and now that the final investment decision has been made it remains unclear if those countries legal teams will be engaged in continuing to resist the completion of the plant.
The European Pressurised Reactors to be used have also come in for great scrutiny as despite costly over-runs in both France and Finland it has not yet been shown to function fully on a commercial basis.
If the project can fend off any further challenges or complications, Hinkley Point C will power 5.8 million homes and create 25,000 jobs. The power station was originally meant to open next year but that date has now been projected forward to 2025.
Tony Ward, Head of Power & Utilities at EY, told Power Engineering International, “Today’s announcement by EdF’s board is a major vote of confidence in the UK’s energy market, and in the vital role that new nuclear will play in delivering the UK’s low carbon aspirations. The decision to proceed with Hinkley is also a major fillip in terms of long-term highly skilled employment, supply chain opportunities, and economic improvement in the local West Country region.
“Investment decisions in major, nationally significant, infrastructure projects are rightly taken only after due care, scrutiny and challenge. In the case of Hinkley, its scale has also required the drawing together and commitment of EdF’s Chinese partners, and negotiation of appropriate support from the UK Government.
“We should recognise that the UK’s electricity system is changing rapidly, especially in the transition to a more distributed, diverse mix for our power generation. However the robustness and reliability of the system as a whole will still demand large-scale base-load power. Today’s announcement is the start of a process to replace some of the existing low carbon nuclear capacity that the UK has already closed, and more that will close in the years to come.
“Much preparatory work has already been done, with many contractors and partners in place. The challenge now shifts from getting the project structured to that of delivering to time and cost.”
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