EDF now clear to make investment decision on Hinkley

05 July 2016

The conclusion of a consultation with EDF's Central Works Council yesterday has cleared the way for a final investment decision (FID) to be made on the Hinkley Point C project. In addition, the French state-owned company said the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union is no barrier to the new nuclear power plant project, which is based in Somerset, England.

EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy said on 24 June, the day the result of the referendum became known, that the UK's decision to leave the EU will have no impact on EDF Energy's strategy to build Hinkley Point C - the first new nuclear power station built in the UK in almost 20 years. Scheduled to begin operating in 2025, the twin-unit UK EPR plant will provide about 7% of the UK's electricity. Under a deal agreed last October, China General Nuclear (CGN) will take a 33.5% stake in the Hinkley project. In addition, the two companies plan to develop projects to build new plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex, the latter using Chinese reactor technology.

In a statement following yesterday's meeting, EDF said employee representatives from the trades unions CGT, FO and CFE-CGC had "supported a resolution stating they are not in a position to give their opinion about the project". The representatives from CFDT abstained from voting on the resolution. It added that the EU referendum vote "does not change the fundamental features of the project nor the willingness of those involved to go ahead with it". The company can now proceed to make a FID, which is to be approved by a vote of its board in September.

The Central Works Council had met "in order to receive an opinion" about the terms of EDF's UK subsidiary, EDF Energy's partnership with CGN to undertake the project to build two EPR reactors at the site in south west England.

The meeting brought to an end "seven months of fruitful exchange and sharing of substantial information with the employees' representatives", EDF said. The company had been "determined to hold a process of meaningful social dialogue" and had therefore decided on 22 April to consult the Central Works Council. The consultation process started on 2 May.

At hearings on 9 May and prior to the meeting on 4 July, the company said it had "also made every effort to answer accurately" all the written questions from the employees' representatives and their appointed experts so that they would be able to give an informed opinion.

During yesterday's meeting, EDF offered to provide information about the consequences on the project of the British vote on 23 June to leave the EU, known as 'Brexit'. EDF said it "relies on existing sensitivity studies which had already been communicated to the employee representatives and considers that the vote does not change the fundamental features of the project nor the willingness of those involved to go ahead with it."

The full period of consultation required by law has reached its end, EDF said, and the opinion of the Central Works Council "is now considered as having been given". EDF therefore reconfirmed its confidence in the project, which has now reached the stage for the FID, it said.

EDF's statement has been welcomed by the UK's Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) and trades unions.

NIA chief executive Tom Greatrex noted that, on 1 July, the general secretaries of the GMB, Unite, Ucatt and Prospect unions had issued a joint statement underlining their support for Hinkley Point C, and the importance of new generation capacity for the UK to provide secure and low carbon power to homes and businesses.

Greatrex said: "This is also an important project for the UK's industry and supply chain, providing thousands of skilled jobs in construction, manufacturing and operating the plant. As the implications of the referendum result are considered, progress on this crucial infrastructure project will demonstrate the continuing importance of investment in the UK and new nuclear as part of a balanced, low carbon and secure energy mix for the future."

In a statement on 1 July, GMB described the Hinkley project as a "litmus test" on post-Brexit investment in large infrastructure projects in the UK. It said: "The UK is already at growing risk of power shortages from our over-reliance on unpredictable renewables and our energy needs have not changed since [the EU referendum]."

The union also published a letter to the chief executive of EDF Energy, Vincent de Rivaz, dated 24 June and signed by the four general secretaries - Tim Roache (GMB); Len McCluskey (Unite); Brian Rye (Ucatt); and Mike Clancy (Prospect).

They wrote: "The UK trade unions are 100% in support of Hinkley Point C and believe that it is vital to make a final investment decision in a timely fashion soon after the consultation process (between EDF and the French unions) is completed (on 4 July). Nuclear new build is already behind the curve; we cannot afford further delay and it is vital for EDF to make a final investment decision now. The unions regard the go-ahead for the £18 billion project, which would generate 7% of UK electricity demand, as vital in terms of providing thousands of jobs and 'keeping the lights on' in the years ahead. Because of delays, the start date for electricity generation has been put back to 2025."

The unions laid out a "template of what needs to happen" for the future Hinkley Point workforce, which includes: jobs based on direct employment; a radical new approach to recruitment to deliver a diverse workforce to attract those who have historically not been well-represented in engineering and construction, notably women; and high-quality terms and conditions of employment for union members.

The letter adds: "It would be a tragedy, in both France and the UK, if all this work and the extraordinary opportunities it provides were to be lost."

Like EDF Energy, NuGeneration and Horizon Nuclear Power on 24 June also stressed their commitment to the UK's nuclear new build program, despite the country's decision to leave the EU.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News