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Intervention urged over nuclear power station decision

Published 04/09/2015

Union chiefs have warned of the 'very real prospect' of power cuts
Union chiefs have warned of the 'very real prospect' of power cuts

The Government is being urged to intervene to speed up a final decision on when a new nuclear power station will be built in the UK or leave the country facing the "very real prospect" of power cuts.

Unite warned that the lights could go out in the coming years if a final investment decision is not made very soon on building Hinkley Point C in Somerset.

Energy giant EDF yesterday announced a delay in building a new nuclear reactor in northern France, saying it would have no impact on its planned new power station in the UK.

But in later comments by Jean-Bernard Levy, EDF's chairman and managing director, it emerged that the company was admitting that Hinkley Point C will not start generating power in 2023 as planned.

A final investment decision is widely expected in October.

Unite national officer Kevin Coyne said: "This delay is very bad news for the UK as energy capacity is very stretched at present, as we have lost energy resources in recent years as old coal-fired stations are phased out.

"Business and domestic consumers face the very real prospect of power cuts and the lights going out in the years to come, if the final investment decision on Hinkley Point - the first new UK nuclear power plant in decades - is not made very soon.

"We have welcomed the important role that EDF Energy has played in its investment at Hinkley Point, so far, as part of the renaissance of nuclear power to meet the nation's target for low carbon energy and nuclear build. However, a decision is desperately needed from the government.

"Energy secretary Amber Rudd needs to use her ministerial position to press potential investors for a quick decision on the necessary future investment, so that EDF can make a final investment decision before Christmas.

"The employment implications are serious too, as the building Hinkley Point will provide many skilled jobs for a considerable length of time."

Professor David Elmes, of Warwick Business School, said: "News from EDF that the Hinkley Point C new nuclear power station won't start in 2023 is hardly unexpected. It also increases the debate for a realistic assessment of the UK's future energy mix."

EDF made no new statement today, pointing to comments from Mr Levy during a press conference in France yesterday announcing that a European pressurised reactor (EPR) nuclear plant at Flamanville in Normandy will not be up and running until 2018, a year later than previously announced.

He said: "All of the experience gained at Flamanville will be invaluable for other EPR projects, and for Hinkley Point C in particular. I have total confidence in the success of the Hinkley Point project, which is based on a realistic estimate of costs and timetable. We are drawing the lessons from Flamanville to apply them to Hinkley Point C, and that project has clear oversight and controls in place.

"Even though the final investment decision (FID) has been pushed back from the initial previsions, the construction time will stay the same, which means that the commissioning date will be updated at the point when FID is made.

"The final investment decision will be made by EDF's board. We are in final discussions with the British Government and our Chinese partners. We hope to make this final investment decision as soon as possible."

Garry Graham of the Prospect trade union, said: " The delay, while no surprise to those working in energy, shows we need action to support nuclear new build now.

"Our existing nuclear fleet is the largest contributor to low-carbon base-load generation, but it is reaching the end of its operational life at the same time as more coal plant comes offline."

He pointed to the closure of generating plant at Ferrybridge, Longannet and, most recently Eggborough. "On an isolated basis these decisions are driven by commercial logic but the bigger question remains. How do we ensure reliable base-load generation to keep the lights on?

"It is an indictment of current policy that we are paying energy intensive users to cease production and come off supply at points of peak demand. It is scandalous that we are the first industrial nation telling industry to stop production because we cannot service their energy needs."

Green Party energy spokesperson Andrew Cooper said: "As the construction of Hinkley Point C is further delayed, with costs mounting, it is becoming increasingly obvious that nuclear energy is a bad investment.

"We've long been told that nuclear is a necessary short-term solution in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, but it's now clear that the Hinkley plant will not be completed in time to fill the gap in capacity before our current generation of coal-fuelled power stations close.

"Other European countries are already producing up to half of their energy from renewable sources, and the UK could be doing the same were it not for a woeful lack of investment by the government; instead, we are spending up to three times as other European countries on nuclear power.

"If we are to build a zero-carbon Britain, we must scrap inefficient projects like Hinkley Point C and invest in genuinely renewable energy sources."

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