New nuclear era at Hinkley Point still hangs on EDF price talks
Britain’s first nuclear power station to be built in a generation got the go-ahead in Somerset yesterday, with ministers finally giving approval to two new reactors at Hinkley Point C.
Now politicians, councils, business leaders and unions have all welcomed the huge £14 billion project – bigger than the Olympics – which will need 25,000 people to build it and 900 jobs to run it.
But as campaigners against the new nuclear power station described the decision as an ‘elaborate, undemocratic sham’, union leaders demanded the Government thrash out a deal with the nationalised French energy firm EDF to make sure they go ahead with the project.
EDF and ministers still have to agree guarantees over the price and the length of a contract to buy the power from the two new reactors – and EDF have threatened to walk away from the new power station if they don’t like the deal on offer.
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Energy secretary Ed Davey said he hoped to conclude a deal ‘shortly’, and said Hinkley Point C would play a ‘crucial role’ in ensuring secure, diverse supplies of energy in the UK and de-carbonising the electricity sector and the economy.
The plant’s two nuclear reactors would be capable of producing 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity, enough to power five million homes, EDF has said.
Mr Davey said EDF had now secured the majority of consents it needed to build and operate the plant.
Gary Smith, national officer of the GMB union, described the planning consent as a “welcome and necessary step forward”.
But he said: “However the delay in agreeing the price to be paid for electricity to be generated in the fleet of nuclear power stations we need is very damaging for investment, jobs and for a low-carbon economy in the UK.
“The state is required to guarantee the levels of returns on investment for electricity suppliers. Since this is so, why not go the whole hog and have a fully accountable nationalised delivery body particularly in the nuclear sector?”
Mr Davey said: “It’s vital to get investment in new infrastructure to get the economy moving. Low-carbon energy projects will bring major investment, supporting jobs and driving growth.
“This planned project adds to a number of new energy projects consented since May 2010, including wind farms and biomass and gas-fired power stations.
“This planned new nuclear power station in Somerset will generate vast amounts of clean energy and enhance our energy security.
“It will benefit the local economy, through direct employment, the supply chain and the use of local services.”
The news was broadly welcomed by local MPs David Laws and Ian Liddell-Grainger, who said he would be battling for the maximum “community benefit” as part of the planning permission.
He also said he hoped a deal would be struck. “I’ve been to see the Prime Minister and he’s taking an active interest in the negotiations. They are good, old fashioned industrial negotiations, which is as it should be.”
Anti-nuclear protestors fought a long and vociferous campaign against a new nuclear power station at Hinkley, and said that no one was surprised at the decision.
“I don’t think anyone in West Somerset believed that the public consultation last year was anything more than an elaborate, undemocratic sham, and that in itself is a political scandal,” said Theo Simon of the Stop Hinkley campaign.
And Keith Allott, from environmental group WWF, warned the Government’s decision to back new nuclear power stations would cost the country more in the long run.
“Backing nuclear means shifting a huge liability to British taxpayers for the cost of building, electricity and crucially, dealing with the waste.
“Unlike renewable energy, the costs of nuclear keep on rising – as witnessed by the fact that the only reactors currently being built in Europe are massively over-budget and far behind schedule.
“Focusing on renewables and energy efficiency, on the other hand, where the UK has huge potential to be an industrial leader, could deliver both huge cost reductions and a substantial boost to UK economic growth and manufacturing.”
And Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said Hinkley Point C failed the test on economic, consumer, environmental and arguably even legal grounds.
“It will lock a generation of consumers into higher energy bills, via a strike price that’s expected to be double the current price of electricity, and it will distort energy policy by displacing newer, cleaner, cheaper technologies.
“With companies now saying the price of offshore wind will drop so much it will be on par with nuclear by 2020, there is no rationale for allowing Hinkley C to proceed.
“Giving it the green light when there is no credible plan for dealing with the waste could also be in breach of the law,” he warned.
But business group CBI’s chief policy director Katja Hall said the planning permission for the new reactors was a big step forward on a critical energy scheme.
“Major projects like this not only help us to overcome our energy challenges, but provide a real boost to growth, creating thousands of jobs directly and through the supply chain. A balanced energy mix is essential in order to ensure secure supply in the future.”