Hinkley Point; to be or not to be? The Content Coms analysis.

This week*, EDF’s board must choose whether to build Britain’s next nuclear power plant. Content Coms’ ‘Chief Energy Wordsmith’, Giles Crosse, looks at the increasingly baffling challenges and risks surrounding the project.

Various media reports hint EDF’s leaders will meet this Wednesday to give the greenlight, or otherwise, to Hinkley Point. What must they debate?

Hinkley Point’s pain

The Independent reports there is panic at EDF over Hinkley’s spiralling costs. Worryingly, French regulators, says the broadsheet, have just delayed a decision on what to do about safety flaws in a similar reactor to the tech planned for the UK.

‘The French nuclear regulator delayed until the end of the year a decision on what to do about, “Very serious,” weaknesses detected in the pressure vessel of a similar EPR being built at Flamanville, Normandy.’ writes The Independent.

The paper says the same fault has been detected in the Hinkley vessels, which must now be rebuilt. In France, the Flamanville plant is 5 years late, while similar reactor technology in Norway is a concerning 10 years behind schedule.

The hints are French political and economic will to see the project through, given such risks, may be waning. The Guardian notes that the opening of Hinkley Point C has been delayed twice, from 2017 to 2025, but the operators will now be penalised if it is later than that, and government can cancel the deal if it is not operating by 2033.

Can the French make the timescales? If they don’t, it will hit them hard in the wallet. Plus, a rush to build a nuclear reactor safely is never a good idea.

Timescale issues

Delays on vast projects, like nuclear power stations, must be expected. But if Hinkley’s schedule slips much more, it will not be ready on time to mitigate against Britain’s blackout dangers. And, arguably, it will lose its whole purpose.

Remember, when, or if it ever does get online, the electricity will cost twice the price of today’s juice too.

Politically, EDF is keen to avoid a standoff with British Ministers, who agreed the huge subsidy for the power it would produce. But EDF shares are tumbling, says the Independent, which also claims EDF is selling off its assets to try and pay for the UK’s future nuclear option.

Amid all this, the European Court is mitigating accusations that Hinkley’s subsidy level isn’t even legal. Should EDF’s board delay once again on committing to the build, what will Amber Rudd’s options be?

What happens next?

The Final Investment Decision (FID) which would greenlight Hinkley is due within days; little further comment is available from EDF on the matter until the decision is made.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports EDF is aiming for a 700 million euro ($758 million) cut in operating costs by 2018 with associated job losses.

Stop Hinkley, a lobbying campaign against the facility, argues Ministers are misleading the public on how much nuclear waste it will create too.

The campaign says Hinkley would produce radioactive wastes and spent fuel with a radioactivity inventory equal to roughly 80% of the radioactivity in all of the UK’s existing radioactive wastes put together.

“It sounds like some of the EDF Board is in a panic over the viability of the Hinkley Point C proposals. Clearly the only sensible investment decision would be no,” says Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Roy Pumfrey.

“We must seek solutions involving energy efficiency and renewables, delivering a robust UK efficiency sector, in addition to any vast, foreign-sourced nuclear options,” says Joanna Watchman, CEO and Founder of Content Coms.

“The UK engineering sector was, and still is great. Let’s revitalise it using today’s sustainable business imperatives, while keeping our lights on too.”

If Hinkley is delayed further, or shelved, it remains unclear how Amber Rudd would solve the UK’s beckoning power shortages.

*Specialists in energy sector comms and marketing, Content Coms, were covering this story week commencing January 25, 2016

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