Counterpunch this week also put up a very pertinent piece about the proposed construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station by the French nuclear energy company, EDF, and the Chinese. The power station was the go-ahead this week by Theresa May, after she had first stated she was opposed to the deal. The piece, by Oliver Tickell, the editor of The Ecologist magazine, argues that not only is the station uncompetitive, massively expensive, and a threat to the environment, but it is also very much a last gamble by EDF and its partner, Areva, to prove the viability of the proposed reactor type, and indeed nuclear energy as a whole. Tickell states that four EPR reactors are under construction in France, Finland and China, and they are massively over budget to the tune of billions of Euros, and very late. Indeed, the reactor at Flamanville in France may never be finished. EDF and Areva are owned and controlled by the French state, and are also massively in debt.
The reasons behind May’s giving in to the French and Chinese are political and economic. She wants good relations with the French, in order to have them on the British side when it comes to negotiating the new relationship with the European Union post-Brexit. China needs the deal to go ahead, because it wants to keep the contract for the construction of the power station at Bradwell in Suffolk. This has the proposed ‘Hualong’ reactor, which has yet to be tried. The government wishes to win over the Chinese and get access without the imposition of tariffs to their market for British manufacturing and financial services industries.
There are also major doubts whether the Hinkley C reactor will ever be built, despite May’s official deal. The subsidy package given to the project as part of the deal appears to contravene EU legislation on how much state aid may be given. EDF and the Chinese company, CGN, have invested so much in the project, that it’s unlikely they’ll be prepared to invest any more until the problems and Flamanville are resolved and the reactor type has demonstrated its viability. That may also be years away. If the power station fails, or fails to work reliably, it will bankrupt EDF, and the company has yet to find the billions it is obliged to spend on the project. There is also much opposition to the power station in France. It is disliked by both the French trade unions and some of the candidates for the French presidency. The type of steel used in the reactor is also being examined for flaws in a power station in France by the French regulator. The Chinese reactor in Bradwell also hasn’t got a safety licence yet. This can take four years, so it will be built, if at all, by the next government.
By which time, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Richard Black, points out, power from other sources may be far less expensive than today.