UK new nuclear 'ready to go'

19 March 2013

Planning permission for two reactors to be built at Hinkley Point C was granted today. This is the last major consent EDF Energy needs to build Britain's first new nuclear power plant in 25 years.

Consent was announced by Ed Davey, the minister in charge of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Speaking in parliament today he confirmed his decision: "The benefits of the proposed Hinkley Point C development outweigh the impacts, including those on the local community, particularly taking into account mitigation measures." This was the conclusion of a year-long consideration by the new Planning Inspectorate - and the first major infrastructure project it has approved since being set up in 2008.

While some minor permissions are still required, EDF Energy has already secured Generic Design Approval for the Areva EPR reactor design, three permits from the Environment Agency, a nuclear site licence and now planning permission. The company now holds "the majority of consents it needs to build and operate the plant," said Davey.

Two Areva EPR units at Hinkley Point C would represent the biggest infrastructure project in the UK since the 1950s. At 1630 MWe each they would jointly meet 7% of UK current electricity demand for a design life of 60 years. Davey said this contribution would be of "crucial national importance" to the UK's energy and climate change policy goals.

Strike it lucky

Speaking to the Nuclear New Build conference in London today, EDF's managing director for new build, Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, confirmed that the Hinkley project is "ready to go," but that it, "cannot be held back forever." He was referring to the ongoing "intensive" discussions between EDF and government to determine a strike price for nuclear power.

Under the contract for difference (CfD) mechanism funds from consumers will be used to top up a generator's income when market prices for power are below a strike price, while the generator would pay back if prices are higher. DECC is to set strike prices for all forms of low-carbon power but the first to be announced will be nuclear. Getting this right is important to protect UK power consumers and at the same time encourage private investors to place the many billions of investment that the UK needs to decarbonise its private sector power supply.

Cadoux-Hudson said an agreement on the nuclear strike price "is still possible" and these words were echoed by EDF Energy CEO Vincent de Rivaz as the company's pessimistic official line. Armed with a final strike price, EDF Energy could complete its investment case and make its final decision - and potentially bring in other investors.

Speaking for Horizon Nuclear Power, COO Alan Raymant warned that EDF Energy's final investment decision "is not necessarily going to determine the outcome of the entire [national] program. There will be similarities between projects, but there will be site, technical and company-specific issues that differentiate these projects. It is important we don't read across too much between projects as we move forward."

Raymant said Horizon was in active discussion with the government regarding the CfD framework "to make sure it underpins investment and addresses specific issues Horizon has as an independent power producer." Now owned by Hitachi, Horizon is preparing a project to build new nuclear power plants of two or three ABWR units each at Wylfa and Oldbury. The first of these is slated to begin operation before 2025.

Conference chairman and expert chair of the Office for Nuclear Development Tim Stone said he saw "really strong, confident behaviour" in the new-build regions of Somerset, Angelsey and also Cumbria, but in the meantime "bravery is required all round" in the lead-up to final investment decisions.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News