Britain’s government has said it will launch a new review into a controversial project to build two new nuclear reactors led by French utility EDF, the country’s first new nuclear plant in decades.
EDF’s board narrowly voted to proceed with the Hinkley Point project on Thursday (28 July).
But in a surprise move, the UK government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, said it wanted to give the project further consideration.
“The UK needs a reliable and secure energy supply and the government believes that nuclear energy is an important part of the mix,” Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said in a statement shortly after EDF gave its go-ahead to the project.
“The government will now consider carefully all the component parts of this project and make its decision in the early autumn.”
The £18 billion (€21.4bn) nuclear reactors carry commercial risks for both France and Britain. EDF will assume the up-front costs, which unions say could jeopardise the firm’s survival, while Britain has committed to pay £92.50 (€109.50) per megawatt hour for the power generated by the plant. This is twice the current market level.
The UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) has said taxpayers could end up paying more than £30bn through a range of subsidies designed to support the project.
EDF said its board had made the final investment decision on the project and had given chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy the authority to sign all necessary contracts, but it did not detail the voting tally on the board.
An EDF director opposed to the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant has resigned before a crucial board vote on the project, paving the way for the French company to approve it.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters that following the resignation of board member Gerard Magnin in protest over EDF’s strategy ahead of the meeting, the remaining board members had approved the project, with ten members voting in favour and seven voting against.
But with the promise of £6bn (€7.14bn) of Chinese investment and the creation of at least 5,000 construction jobs, the Hinkley Point project is about more than just energy.
The government’s decision to reconsider the project will disappoint many in Britain, who are keen to show that the UK is open for business and to attract foreign investment after last month’s vote to leave the European Union.