The French Utility giant EDF, whose recent large investments we wrote about in an earlier article, have just announced an approved plan to build a new nuclear power plant in Britain, which is the first to be built in a generation. The plan, announced on Thursday, was approved by their executive board the previous night, and will be enacted next year.
While the project by the state-controlled utility firm has many supporters across various sectors, it is still a highly controversial move, with critics attacking it for the possible risks inherent to nuclear power and calling it an expensive, dangerous move “in the wrong direction” for emissions-free energy.
Supporters, however, look at what the project means, rather than what it may physically represent – the new plant would cost £18 billion (or approximately $23.6 billion, if you’re reading from the US) and therefore represents a huge investment in Britain’s future, mere weeks after the country unexpectedly voted to leave the European Union – a vote which has filled international investors with terror in the time since. The enormous investment in the power plant would be a very welcome change from the doom-and-gloom economic outlook currently dominating the news and financial circles.
Theresa May’s government, ever the ray of sunshine in times like this, said in a statement released immediately after EDF announced their plans, that the project would be “considered very carefully” and the decision would be made in early Autumn of this year, making some investors unsure of whether the French plant will be vetoed or allowed to proceed.
However, Hinkley Point C, as the project is known, is only one of many massive infrastructure projects currently in the pipeline for Britain, and even if it is not allowed to proceed, the fires have been lit – enormous investment including a £53 billion high-speed rail line have been confirmed, which will run from London directly to major northern cities, connecting the country like never before.
On top of that, the plant has the capacity to output a truly phenomenal amount of electricity once complete – enough for six million homes, single-handedly dealing with 7% of the entirety of Britain’s electricity demands. It would also greatly boost the interest in Western nuclear development, a once-promising field which was almost completely abandoned after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan.
Paul Hollingsworth, a consultant with Capital Economics, a London-based research firm, wrote in support of the power plant and the investment it represents, saying “It’s great to see that the investment hasn’t been scrapped after the Brexit result was announced.”
The Details for Hinkley Point C
The nuclear station plans so far call for the plant to be built on a river headland overlooking the Bristol Channel, outside Bristol in the Southwest of England. It will be constructed and run by EDF energy, and will contain two massive French-designed nuclear reactors. EDF also owns and operates the majority of England’s other nuclear power plants, including Hinkley Point B, which is located nearby.
The approval for the Hinkley Point C plant is also a great sign for the French nuclear power industry, which is the leading nuclear industry in Europe, but has still been floundering since the 2011 Fukushima incident. Damaged first by the meltdown, then by multiple long delays and cost overruns on power plants of the same design as Hinkley Point C which are currently under construction in France and Finland.
However, even in the face of the potential cost overruns and delays, the UK government has confirmed their convictions that whatever the cost of the plant, the new station is necessary to provide Britain’s electricity supply and help phase out the aging UK stations. Conveniently, it also allows the May government to meet their clean energy goals quickly and easily.
As an aid to the project’s funding and to help alleviate the stresses involved with the upcoming build, the British Government and EDF officials have included investment from China General Nuclear Power Corporation as a minority investor. The Corporation is a Chinese state company, and may one day allow the blossoming Chinese nuclear power industry to construct a plant of their own design on UK soil.
However, the plan is not without its critics. Nuclear power on the whole is widely criticised, and with renewable energy becoming more manageable and a more realistic prospect across the world, critics are redoubling their efforts to be heard by the nuclear lobby.
One such critic is David Howell, the former energy minister for Margaret Thatcher, who wrote in an email that he feels Hinkley Point C is “supposed to herald the beginning of a new civil nuclear phase for Britain, but could in fact be a huge setback for the nation.”
Other critics point to the fact that while the energy itself is clean and carbon-neutral, the nuclear waste generated is still next to impossible to safely dispose of and the possibility of a catastrophic accident or terror attack cannot be discounted.
The chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, Doug Parr, puts it very succinctly when he says “no-one worries about terrorists crashing into a wind farm.”
However, EDF, along with other nuclear power plant operators, assured concerned reporters that the risk of terrorism affecting the plant is extremely small and has been overstated by critics – tleling them that multiple failsafe options and powerful security options protect the reactors, providing layered security that could not be breached quickly enough to take control of the reactor before the teams could successfully shut it down. In addition to the emergency procedures and almost-impenetrable security features, the imposing physical structure of the nuclear power plant, which is largely constructed of millions of tonnes of solid concrete, is capable of shrugging off any external attempts at damage. According to the EDF spokseman interviewed, even an aeroplane attack or bombing would be unable to damage the plant in a serious way.
The decision, which has been long in coming and surrounded by controversy, continued to generate headlines all the way to the board meeting which passed it, as one board member, Gérard Magnin, resigned on the day of the decision, apparently due to his concerns over progressing with the project.