A SENSE of crisis is mounting over the proposed construction of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.

With the departure of the EDF finance director who thinks the project could sink the firm, and the calls by the French trade union involved to abandon Hinkley C comes the revelation from the company's chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy who said they need more cash from the French government.

He said: "We are currently negotiating with the French state to obtain commitments allowing us to secure our financial position. I am sure that this project is a good project for the group and that in the near future, all the conditions will come together for it to be definitely launched. It is clear that I will not engage EDF in this project before these conditions are met."

If proof was needed that the whole scheme is now teetering on the brink of being scrapped these words confirmed the worst fears of those backing the massive infrastructure project in West Somerset and Bridgwater.

Reassurance has come from David Cameron and President Hollande who issued a joint communique breathing confidence into the project – but that was before EDF asked for more money. An announcement from EDF is now expected in April over the Final Investment Decision (FID) although announcements of this kind have come and gone on several occasions.

Locally voices have continued to stress the project will happen. MPs Ian Liddell Grainger and James Heappey have both told the Bridgwater Mercury this week Hinkley C will be built. Bridgwater Town Council discussed the issue on Thursday in the belief the power station will be built and infrastructure and grants will continue to come to Bridgwater. In fact the councillors thought the delays to Hinkley may be good in the short term as the road works at J24 may be completed before major construction traffic starts to rumble through the town.

For UKIP Stephen Fitzgerald cautioned the optimism saying that if the project is scrapped it would be major blow to the region. He said: “It’s a huge worry as all the investment is based around the Hinkley Point development. If it falls through it will be a serious hole in Somerset’s plans.”

And the local chambers of commerce have all expressed fears over the future investment and impact on Somerset companies who have signed up to be suppliers. With EDF holding out a begging bowl to the Élysée Palace it does appear that the future for Hinkley C is in the balance.

Will Hinkley C go ahead or is it just a temporary hiccup? Your views to harry.mottram@nqsw.co.uk




There are good reasons to doubt whether Hinkley C will ever be built but there are equally good reasons which point to it being completed – if later than planned.

Firstly the negatives. The French Government own the vast majority of EDF and are mindful of the politics of over stretching the firm’s commitments. EDF have technical problems with their nuclear power build programme in Flamanville in France and in Finland using the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) which has led them to look to Japan to sort out issues with the safety of the reactor. There is pressure on the French Government from within the firm and the public to abandon Hinkley and sort out the problems closer to home as if it fails it could bankrupt EDF. The French economy has stalled, unemployment is more than 10 percent and despite recent economic reforms there seems little chance of an upturn soon.

Meanwhile China’s economy is slowing down and already there are jitters in Beijing about the wisdom of funding Hinkley C of up to 30 percent of the costs. The EU referendum isn’t helping the UK economy with fears that a Brexit would cost jobs and businesses – and it’s a two way thing as the EU could also suffer an economic hit if GB pulls up the drawbridge. Which all feeds into the concerns of those at the top in EDF.

Now the positives. The main notion is Hinkley C is too big to fail and Britain needs the power station as without it built the lights will go out in the 2030s or before. Generating seven percent of the nation’s power is important but if it succeeds then there will be more ERPs built and the lights will stay on.

So much has been built already it is now just the reactor that needs to be completed for the project to go ahead. If the reactor was ready now most people agree FID would happen this spring – the money being a problem but not the deal breaker. EDF say that 80 percent of the build is not the reactor – it’s all the associated ground work and construction that goes into the build that would complete the site.

The Government needs the power station for energy, jobs and to save face – and is backed by the Labour Party by and large. In short there’s a political will to see it through and to put more cash in to ensure it succeeds – not all projects have that. Failure is not an option.


Time line.

Ever since nuclear power was invented the process has been equally controversial and expensive. But by the mid-1990s it was providing a quarter of the nation’s electricity. Safety concerns have always been key in gaining Government and public confidence – and occasional set-backs and disasters haven’t helped. Britain has been at the forefront of the technology but now is at a cross roads as Hinkley C’s future is put in doubt.

1947 Beginnings: work begins on nuclear facilities to assist the British nuclear bomb programme following the war using a former ROF site at Windscale. Soon afterwards work begins on a civilian nuclear power station starts on the same site.

1956 Up and running: Calder Hall nuclear power station opens at Windscale later called Sellafield.

1957 Somerset starts: using a traction engine to convey materials through the lanes near Cannington work starts on Hinkley A.

1965 Switch on: Hinkley A comes into service and continues until 2000 and is initially owned by the Central Electricity Board.

1967 New station: the diggers move in to start on Hinkley B.

1976 Number 2: power starts to flow from Hinkley B which is currently due to keep working until 2023.

1997 Power: nuclear is producing around a quarter of Britain’s energy but falls out of favour following a series of disasters such as Chernobyl in 1986 and the 1993 Severesk incident in Russia and the rise of renewables.

2005 Energy review: Tony Blair’s New Labour Government takes a fresh look at nuclear power.

2006 Good to go: the Labour Government backs a new nuclear power station production programme but looks to the private sector for funding.

2007 French connection: France’s nuclear energy giant EDF throws its hat into the ring and plans to build Hinkley C by 2017 using the EPR design.

2008 Green light: EDF buys Britain’s existing nuclear power plants, for £12.5bn and says they’ll build four power stations with two at Hinkley.

2008 Talks: Hinkley Point consultation begins with local residents.

2009 It’s a gas: British Gas owner Centrica invests in EDF with 20% stake.

2010 Badgers: EDF relocates a colony of badgers off the land earmarked for Hinkley Point.

2011 First problem: EDF puts start date back to 2018 amid concerns over Government subsidies.

2011 Fukushima: safety fears prompt major review of Hinkley after Japanese nuclear disaster.

2011 Planning: EDF says Final Investment Decision (FID) will happen in 2012 and puts in planning application. Opening date put back to 2019.

2012 Clocking on: work begins on Hinkley C Initial preparatory works begin at the Somerset site.

2012 Strike price: Government guarantees price for electricity to EDF.

2012 Problem: FID fails to happen as EDF looks for new investors.

2013 Going: Centrica pulls out of the project.

2013 Good news: planning permission is granted.

2013 Money: Project now expected to cost £16bn. The Government agrees EDF should receive a guaranteed a price of £92.50 – twice the current market price of electricity - for 35 years.

2013 No FID: more delays with Hinkley C expected to start producing power in 2023.

2014 Preparations: work on roads, infrastructure and ground work underway.

2014 Help: state aid given an OK by the EU as estimates put plant £24.5bn.

2015 Delays: no FID despite assurances from the Government who confirm £2bn loan.

2015 Communists: Chinese Government steps in with 33% investment. First power is now scheduled for 2025.

2016 Silence: no FID despite assurances from EDF in January and February.

2016 Exit: EDF's chief financial officer Thomas Piquemal quits.

2016 More cash: EDF say they need more money from the French Government to complete the project.