The government is facing fresh calls to reconsider its plan to build two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, with experts warning that there’s “zero possibility” of the controversial project being finished by 2025.
The concerns come after Vincent de Rivaz, the French utility giant’s UK boss, failed to assure parliament's energy and climate change committee yesterday that it will able to meet that deadline. He was hauled before MPs amid repeated delays to when EDF will make a final investment decision.
“At the moment of final investment decision (FID) we will confirm a date,” De Rivaz said in response to whether the nuclear power plant will be completed on time. The FID will be taken following a consultation with French unions.
The £21bn project, a cornerstone of the government’s energy policy, has been beset by concerns over its affordability for EDF and consequent opposition from the French unions. There are also question marks over the viability of the EPR nuclear reactors, brainchild of EDF’s engineering partner Areva.
“I think there’s zero possibility of it being completed by 2025,” said Jeremy Nicholson of the Energy Intensive Users Group. “There’s a theoretical possibility it could be completed by 2027, but I wouldn't wish to bet on it. I don't think the secretary of state should either… The most sensible thing would be to carry on discussions with EDF in case there are means by which the price and delivery rate can be managed, but to recognise that this is looking increasingly implausible. There’s no dishonour in working on plan B if plan A doesn't work.”
Asked whether the UK government should change course and abandon the deal with EDF, Peter Atherton, managing director and head of European utility sector research at Jefferies, said: “Yes, that would be a sensible piece of public policy. But the government shows no signs of doing that.”
Paul Dorfman, a senior research fellow at UCL’s Energy Institute, added: “This thing cannot be built on time, it’s a failed piece of kit. Even if it were to get an approval there’s no way of knowing when the UK could rely on any power from Hinkley.”
The alternatives include other nuclear technologies and gas-fired stations, but both bring their own challenges.
Andrea Leadsom, energy minister, said yesterday she remains “fully confident” that Hinkley will go ahead.