Key Hinkley funder EDF forced to close oldest French nuclear plant

Kenza Bryan
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Development land at Hinkley Point C where EDF is building the UK's first new nuclear power plant since the 1990s (Source: Getty)

The French government has officially decreed the closure of state-owned energy company EDF’s nuclear power plant, adding to doubt about the viability of its Hinkley Point C project in Britain.

This morning’s announcement that Fessenheim's twin reactors will be closed represents a last-minute fulfilment of Socialist Prime Minister Francois Hollande’s 2012 campaign-trail pledge to prioritise safer renewable energy.

The closure of the €400m (£342m) plant will come as a blow to EDF, which currently faces debts of €37bn and has been lobbying against the decision all week.

EDF poured the first concrete at the £18bn Hinkley Point project in Somerset just one week ago. The dual reactor plant has been designed to meet seven per cent of British energy demands when it starts producing power in 2025.

It’s approval was one of Theresa May’s first policy decisions in office and it is fast becoming the lynchpin of Britain’s energy security strategy. This is particularly true given that Toshiba’s ability to finance Moorside nuclear project in Cumbria was called into question after its nuclear unit Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in the US.

Safety was the key concern behind today’s decision to close France’s oldest nuclear plant, built over 40 years ago on a seismic fault line near the border with Germany. Last month, two EDF reactors were halted after a UK nuclear regulator criticised the safety culture at its recently acquired loss-making nuclear builder, Areva.

The closure will go ahead once EDF’s new reactor at Flamanville becomes operational, initially projected for 2012 but now unlikely to happen before April 2020. EDF’s projects in Norway and Britain have also been beset by delay and regulatory trouble.

The utility firm’s share price fell to an all-time low earlier in March when it launched a €4bn (£3.5bn) capital raising to support projects such as Hinkley Point C.

Read more: EDF's shares have tumbled to an all-time low

EDF has also expressed concern about the impact Brexit and skills shortage may have on the ability to build Hinkley Point.

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