France’s EDF has warned that the costs of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station under construction in the southwest of England could swell by another £3billion, while warning of further delays due to problems supply chain resulting from Covid-19 lockdowns.
In a statement released late Thursday evening, the French utility estimated the 3.2 gigawatt Somerset power station could cost between £25bn and £26bn, down from an estimate of £18bn when it received the contract. green light in 2016.
The first of two next-generation European pressurized reactors (EPRs) being installed at Hinkley Point C is now expected to start producing electricity in June 2027 – a year later than planned – but EDF added that the “risk of additional delay of the two units is assessed at 15 months”.
When seeking support for the project in 2007, EDF initially said the British would cook their Christmas turkeys using electricity from Hinkley Point C in 2017.
EDF was forced to revise project costs upwards on numerous occasions. When last reviewed in January 2021, it had estimated the total at £23bn. EDF quotes costs at 2015 prices to maintain consistency for markets, but the actual bill will be even higher after accounting for inflation.
EDF stressed that the additional costs would not affect UK consumers. Construction costs are being borne by EDF and its junior partner in the project, China’s CGN, in return for a 35-year contract which guarantees a price of £92.50 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced, rising with the ‘inflation.
The latest setback comes at a time when the British government hopes to revive the country’s nuclear power program as part of efforts to reduce its dependence on energy imports, including from Russia.
It will likely provide additional ammunition for environmental campaigners and nuclear skeptics, who argue the technology is expensive, takes too long to build and the UK has yet to figure out how to deal with the legacy of highly toxic waste. of the nuclear industry in the long term. .
As part of an energy supply security strategy released in April, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set a target of building 24 gigawatts of new nuclear power by 2050. That’s equivalent to eight large-scale power stations atomic reactors, although ministers also hope to encourage small modular reactors of the type being developed by a consortium led by Rolls-Royce.
In a memo sent to workers at Hinkley Point C on Thursday, the project’s general manager, Stuart Crooks, blamed lockdowns during the pandemic, during which he had to reduce the number of workers who could safely operate at the site. around 5,000 to 1,500.
“In civil construction alone, having fewer people than expected means we lost over half a million individual days of critical work in 2020 and 2021,” he wrote.
“Our supply chain was also badly affected and still is today. In April 2020, 180 suppliers were completely closed, but even in February this year, more than 60 suppliers were operating with reduced productivity due to of Covid.
However, the further delays will come as no surprise to the company’s critics.
In France, EDF’s flagship Flamanville 3 plant, which will also use EPR technology, is more than a decade behind schedule and costs have also soared, at one point prompting a rebuke from the French government as it ordered the group to solve the problems with the project managerial and industrial skills.
Along with problems with new projects, EDF is facing shutdowns of several existing reactors in France due to welding problems, sending nuclear production to its lowest level in decades.
It came just as Europe’s power supply has been rocked by attempts to wean the region off Russian gas since the invasion of Ukraine and has further deepened financial turmoil at EDF, raising concerns about its ability to prepare to build new reactors.
EDF has lobbied the UK government as it hopes to build another power station in England using EPR technology, at Sizewell C in Suffolk. A planning decision on the plant is expected in July.