MPs: UK made grave errors over Hinkley nuclear project

Hinkley Point nuclear power station is part of EDF Group. The French company issued 'green bonds' last year to finance its operations. MEPs said the 'green' label must not be applied to nuclear projects. [jgolby/Shutterstock]

Britain made “grave strategic errors” in its handling of the Franco-Chinese Hinkley Point nuclear project, a critical parliamentary report concluded on Wednesday (22 November).

The UK’s House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee stressed that consumers will pay a high price for construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, which was given the green light by the government in September 2016.

The £19.6-billion (€22bn) project, which is to be built by French energy giant EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), is highly symbolic of the UK’s nuclear renewal.

The pair will construct two European Pressurised Reactors, a third-generation reactor design, at the site in Somerset, southwest England. Neither of the EPRs will however be operational until the end of 2025 at the earliest.

“The government made some grave strategic errors here and must now explain what it will do to ensure these are not repeated,” wrote Labour MP Meg Hillier, who is chair of the cross-party committee of lawmakers.

The report voiced alarm that the government does not intend to review the contract – despite the fact it could add £30 billion (€33.8bn) to consumers’ bills over the next 35 years.

That is five times more than the government envisaged in 2013 when it agreed provisional terms.

A recent study by the National Audit Office calculated this figure by assessing the cumulative difference between the market price for electricity – and the state-guaranteed price which is currently far higher.

“The committee is concerned consumers are locked into an expensive deal lasting 35 years and that the government did not revisit the terms between the original decision to go ahead and now, despite estimated costs to the consumer having risen five-fold,” the report added.

“Over the life of the contract, consumers are left footing the bill and the poorest consumers will be hit hardest.

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Nuclear power seems on its way out, as construction of only one new nuclear reactor was undertaken in 2017, according to the World Nuclear Industry Report 2017. EURACTIV France reports.

“Yet in all the negotiations no part of government was really championing the consumer interest.”

According to the report, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, whose portfolio includes nuclear energy, decided not to renegotiate the deal because a lower tariff could have discouraged investors, hindered the project or caused it to collapse.

The committee highlights that other similar projects which used the EPR reactor – in France, Finland and China – all overshot their budget and construction deadlines.

Alternative lower-emission technologies have meanwhile become cheaper than nuclear power, the report underlines.

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Nuclear power remains the cornerstone of Rosatom’s expansion strategy, notably in emerging countries. But the Russian state-owned energy conglomerate is now also talking up renewables, citing wind, solar and batteries as part of a diversified low-carbon energy portfolio.

The report derides the government’s track record on managing infrastructure contracts.

And it notes that the UK’s looming departure from the European Union will also prompt its exit from Euratom, the bloc’s regulator for the sector.

The committee also urges the government to re-evaluate its nuclear strategy and to make it public before giving the green light to any new power plant project.

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