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British government 'should intervene' over spiralling costs of 'white elephant' Hinkley nuclear plant

Power plant plans labelled 'costly mistake' as deal climbs by another £1.5bn

Hinkley nuclear power plant now only facility in development in UK. Reuters
Hinkley nuclear power plant now only facility in development in UK. Reuters

It has been described as a “white elephant” and a “costly mistake”. But why is Hinkley Point - the proposed new nuclear power plant based in the south west corner of Britain - the subject of so much controversy?

News of yet another rise in cost for the project has come as no surprise to its critics.

Yet, despite these expectations, this week’s revelation that the deal has climbed by another £1.5 billion - to an eye-watering £19.6 billion - has shocked many, prompting calls for the British government to take action before it’s too late.

In the New Statesman, Jonathan Bartley makes the case for abandoning the risky and overpriced “white elephant” over its delays and spiralling costs.

He says: “With every day that passes, the proposed new Hinkley Point power station looks less flagship and more shipwreck. But we don’t have to go down with this one.”

While Nils Pratley, writing in The Guardian, calls on ministers to draw up an immediate contingency plan, adding: “It is bad enough that UK consumers are locked into this ‘expensive and risky’ project as the NAO called Hinkley. It would be calamitous if we end up being bullied into paying more.”

The Hinkley Point power plant is being joint-funded by France’s state-owned company EDF and China. However, another £30 billion in subsidies is expected to come from British taxpayers and electricity consumers. Critics now believe this sum could rise to £50 billion.

EDF, which owns the lion’s share of the controversial scheme, revealed on Monday that the project had overrun by £1.5 billion and was likely facing further delays.

The company is part of a French-Chinese consortium awarded the two-reactor project last year despite criticism from green groups and cost warnings from experts.

EDF said in a statement: "The final project costs are now estimated at £19.6 billion at 2015 rates, an increase of £1.5 billion.”

It also warned of a possible delay of 15 months in delivering the first reactor, and nine months for the second.

If this risk is confirmed, the deal would add "around £0.7 billion" to costs, EDF said.

The announcement came after EDF on June 26 acknowledged that it was carrying out a "full review" of costs and scheduling.

Named Hinkley Point C, the project, built in the southwestern English county of Somerset, is being showcased as the first British nuclear power station to be built in more than two decades.

It will provide seven percent of Britain's power needs, replacing old, carbon-emitting coal-fired plants, according to the British government.

But the costs and timetable have been repeatedly revised. In 2007, an EDF boss promised that, in 2017, Britons would be able to cook their Christmas turkeys using electricity from the facility.

On June 23, Britain's National Audit Office (NAO) said the expected cost of top-up payments had ballooned from £6 billion to nearly £30 billion.

The deal "has locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits," the NAO said.

Environmentalists are also fiercely opposed, urging the government to instead focus on renewable sources like wind and solar power to meet Britain's energy needs.

The deal was approved by Prime Minister Theresa May's government only last September, amid uncertainty about the future of the British economy caused by Brexit.

EDF, mainly owned by the French government, is funding around two-thirds of the cost and its Chinese partner, China General Nuclear Corporation, is financing the remainder.

Updated: July 5, 2017 12:57 PM

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