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The big British atomic plan Hinkley Point C is now a billion-dollar sinkhole

The new nuclear power plant Hinkley Point C in the English county of Somerset is supposed to supply a total of six million households – but now the project could become significantly more expensive than originally planned. On Wednesday, several British media outlets reported a new estimate from the French energy company EDF, which is responsible for construction and operation.

According to the reports, the costs could rise to 46 billion pounds (almost 53 billion euros). Originally, construction costs were estimated to be equivalent to 34 billion pounds when accounting for inflation. According to the estimate, the commissioning of the first of the two reactors could be delayed until 2031 – it was initially planned for 2027.

Disgruntled Chinese

Nuclear power plays a central role in the British government’s climate strategy. By 2050, 25 percent of British electricity is to be generated from nuclear power. In December, the United Kingdom joined an international atomic alliance at the World Climate Conference in Dubai, which aims to triple worldwide nuclear energy production by 2050.

Just a few weeks ago, the Chinese power plant operator CGN effectively withdrew as an investor from the project after refusing to invest additional funds. Since then, EDF has been trying to persuade the British government to make additional investments – so far without success.

The promise with the Christmas turkey

From the British perspective, the cost explosion is primarily a French problem. Hinkley Point C is “not a government project,” the BBC quoted a government spokesperson in London. “Any additional costs or delays are the responsibility of EDF and its partners and will not be borne by taxpayers in any way.” In fact, EDF had already committed to bear all additional costs for the project years ago – in exchange, the company agreed with the British government on an increased purchase price for the electricity.

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For the French company, the Hinkley Point project has been a decades-long nuisance. In 2007, then-CEO Vincent de Rivaz promised that the British would be able to roast their Christmas turkeys with Hinkley Point’s electricity in 2017. In 2016, CFO Thomas Piquemal resigned in protest against the project, among other things, because he saw it as endangering the company’s future. EDF is also under pressure in the French domestic market: In 2022, the government in Paris even nationalized the previously semi-state-owned company.

“It has proven to be difficult”

In a letter to the workforce, as quoted by the BBC, project leader Thomas Crooks cited a whole range of causes for the problems. British bureaucracy has resulted in 7000 changes being necessary for the construction, according to the letter. This has also led to a 35% increase in steel and a 25% increase in concrete. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has occurred.

Furthermore, there have been challenges with inflation, as well as shortages of skilled workers and materials – and, as stated by Crooks: Brexit. “It has proven to be difficult,” quoted the BBC further from the letter, “to be the first to restart the nuclear industry in Britain after a 20-year hiatus.”

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