Hinkley go-ahead marks the ‘relaunch of nuclear’, EDF boss claims

The government’s decision last week to give the final go-ahead to Hinkley Point C, marks the “relaunch of nuclear in Europe”, the boss of EDF Energy has claimed.

Chief executive Vincent de Rivaz said it will “transform” the prospects for the industry and have “global implications” for the battle against climate change.

“Hinkley Point C is a first,” he added, speaking at the World Nuclear Symposium in London. “The momentum it creates restarting the nuclear new build industry will help future projects – including ours – to be even more competitive.”

Following an expected an unexpected review of the project over the summer, the government announced on Thursday it had revised the terms of deal with EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) to ensure EDF could not sell of its controlling stake without the consent of ministers.

The 3.2GW plant in Somerset has taken a lot of flak, particularly over its cost. Its critics say, at £92.50 (2012 prices) – around double the average wholesale price for baseload power in 2016 – the inflation-linked strike price it was awarded by the government represents a poor deal for consumers.

A report released by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in August found that replacing the plant with a combination of windfarms, interconnectors, gas-fired plants, energy efficiency measures and demand-side response could save Britain around £1 billion each year.

Responding to this line of argument, De Rivaz said the UK’s future energy system will be diverse, but “no one technology is a panacea” and “there is no solution for the UK without new nuclear in the mix.”

Whilst batteries have been “heralded by many as having the potential to drastically transform the electricity system” they only “work well in smoothing out short term imbalances”. Despite falling costs “today there is no prospect of cost effective battery technology to store electricity for days, weeks and months rather than hours”.

De Rivaz said small-modular reactors – a technology which EDF is itself developing – have “great potential in the UK” but “no one can know how long it will take for policymakers, regulators and planners to approve these designs and what they will cost”

He said onshore wind can only make a limited contribution to the energy system on the “crowded island” of Britain and that offshore wind is more expensive than Hinkley. Besides, they produce “wasteful” excess electricity and need “costly back-up power”.

Gas generation is not low-carbon and its cost is on par with Hinkley when “the cost of carbon emissions is taken into account”. Carbon capture and storage – “in theory the perfect complement to gas” – remains “unproven at scale and nowhere near to being a ‘shovel-ready’ or affordable”.

Critics have also raised concerns over the design of the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) – two of which will be installed at Hinkley. Although four reactors are currently being built – Flamanville 3 in France, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, and Taishan 1 and 2 in China – none are yet operational. They have been beset by cost overruns and delays and the French nuclear authority ASN is currently conducting a test programme on the reactor vessel Flamanville after uncovering “manufacturing anomalies”.

De Rivaz said Flamanville is “now on track” and that Taishin is a “success”: “The testing programme for the Taishan EPR is running smoothly. Cold testing is complete and preparations for hot testing are underway. These are some of the final steps before commissioning”. He said EDF still expects Hinkley to be up and running by 2025.

The new nuclear plant is “so last century”, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince told Utility Week on Friday.

Read further reaction to Thursday’s decision here