Hinkley Point C nuclear power station
|Hinkley Point C nuclear power station (HPC)|
The headland at Hinkley Point with the current power stations visible in the background
|Country||England, United Kingdom|
|Location||Somerset, South West England|
|Operator(s)||Expected NNB Generation Company|
|Nuclear power station|
|Cooling source||Sea water from Severn Estuary|
|Make and model||GE Power (General Electric)|
|Units planned||2 × 1,600 MWe|
|Thermal capacity||2 × 4,500 MWt|
|Nameplate capacity||3,200 MW|
Hinkley Point C nuclear power station (HPC) is a project to construct a 3,200 MWe nuclear power station with two EPR reactors in Somerset, England. The proposed site is one of eight announced by the British government in 2010, and in November 2012 a nuclear site licence was granted. On 28 July 2016 the EDF board approved the project, and on 15 September 2016 the UK government approved the project with some safeguards for the investment. The plant, which has a projected lifetime of sixty years, has an estimated construction cost of £18 billion, or £24.5 billion including financing costs. The National Audit Office estimates the additional cost to consumers under the "strike price" will be £29.7 billion. Financing of the project is still to be finalised, but the construction costs will be paid for by the mainly state-owned EDF of France and state-owned CGN of China.
In January 2008, the UK government gave the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built. Hinkley Point C, in conjunction with Sizewell C, was expected to contribute 13% of UK electricity by the early 2020s. Areva, the EPR's designer, initially estimated that electricity could be produced at the competitive price of £24 per MWh.
EDF, which is 85% owned by the French government, purchased British Energy, now EDF Energy Nuclear Generation Ltd, for £12.4 billion in a deal that was finalised in February 2009. This deal was part of a joint venture with UK utility Centrica, who acquired a 20% stake in EDF Energy Nuclear Generation Ltd as well as the option to participate in EDF Energy's UK new nuclear build programme.
In September 2008, EDF, the new owners of Hinkley Point B, announced plans to build a third, twin-unit European Pressurised Reactor (as the EPR was then called) reactor at Hinkley Point, to join Hinkley Point A (Magnox), which is now closed and being decommissioned, and the Hinkley Point B (AGR), which has a closure date for accounting purposes of 2023 but is likely to be closed much later.
On 18 October 2010, the British government announced that Hinkley Point – already the site of the disused Hinkley Point A and the still operational Hinkley Point B power stations – was one of the eight sites it considered suitable for future nuclear power stations. NNB Generation Company, a subsidiary of EDF, submitted an application for development consent to the Infrastructure Planning Commission on 31 October 2011. In October 2013, the government announced that it had approved subsidized feed-in prices for the electricity production of Hinkley Point C, with the plant expected to be completed in 2023 and remain operational for 60 years.
In 2011, Elizabeth Gass sold some 230 acres of her Fairfield estate at Hinkley Point for about £50 million. There are conflicting reports about whether the land was for the development of nuclear power or a wind farm.
In February 2013, Centrica withdrew from the new nuclear construction programme, citing building costs that were higher than it had anticipated, caused by larger generators at Hinkley Point C, and a longer construction timescale, caused by modifications added after the Fukushima disaster.
In March 2013, a group of MPs and academics, concerned that the 'talks lack the necessary democratic accountability, fiscal and regulatory checks and balances', called for the National Audit Office to conduct a detailed review of the negotiations between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and EDF.
In December 2013, the European Commission opened an investigation to assess whether the project breaks state aid rules  with reports suggesting the UK government's plan may well constitute illegal state aid. Joaquín Almunia, the EU Competition Commissioner, referred to the plans as "a complex measure of an unprecedented nature and scale" and said that the European Commission is "not under any legal time pressure to complete the investigation". In January 2014, an initial critical report was published, indicating that the UK government's plan may well constitute illegal state aid, requiring a formal state aid investigation examining the subsidies. David Howarth, a former Liberal Democrat MP, doubted "whether this is a valid contract at all" under EU and English law. Franz Leidenmuhler (University of Linz, a specialist in EU state aid cases and European competition law), wrote that "a rejection is nearly unavoidable. The Statement of the Commission in its first findings of 18 December 2013, is too clear. I do not think that some conditions could change that clear result." Though that, ten months later the European Commission approved the financing.
In March 2014, the Court of Appeal allowed An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, to challenge the legality of the decision by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to grant development consent. An Taisce lawyers say there was a failure to undertake "transboundary consultation" as required by the European Commission’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. Lord Justice Sullivan said that "he did not venture that it had a real prospect of success, it was desirable that the court should give a definitive view as to whether there should be a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union and, if not, on the meaning of the Directive". In July 2014 the Court of Appeal rejected An Taisce's application on the basis 'that severe nuclear accidents were very unlikely... no matter how low the threshold for a "likely" significant effect on the environment... the likelihood of a nuclear accident was so low that it could be ruled out even applying the stricter Waddenzee approach' 
The UN, under the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, ordered the Department for Communities and Local Government to send a delegation to face the committee in December 2014, on the "profound suspicion" that the UK failed to properly consult neighbouring countries.
In September 2014, news leaked that "discussions with the UK authorities have led to an agreement. On this basis, vice-president Almunia will propose to the college of commissioners to take a positive decision in this case. In principle a decision should be taken within this mandate" with a final decision expected in October 2014.
On 8 October 2014, it was announced that the European Commission had approved the project, with an overwhelming majority with only four commissioners voting against the decision. The European Commission adjusted the "gain-share mechanism" whereby higher profits are shared with UK taxpayers.
In June 2015, the Austrian government filed a legal complaint with the European Commission on the subject of the state subsidies.
In September 2015, EDF admitted that the project would not be completed by 2023, with a further announcement on the final investment decision expected in October 2015. Earlier plans to announce Areva and 'other investors' were dropped: "in order to have speed, in the first phase EDF and the Chinese will be the investors". A report by the IEA and NEA suggests privatization as one of the causes for British nuclear power being more expensive than nuclear power in other countries.
In February 2016, EDF again delayed a final decision on proceeding with the project, disclosing that the financial agreement with CGN was yet to be confirmed. EDF, which had recently reported a 68% fall in net profit, was still looking at how it would finance its share of the project. With EDF's share price having halved over the preceding year, the cost of the Hinkley Point C project now exceeded the entire market capitalisation of EDF. EDF stated that "first concrete", the start of actual construction, was not planned to begin until 2019.
In June 2016, EDF executives and managers told MPs that the Hinkley Point C proposal should be postponed, until it had "solved a litany of problems", including EDF's "soaring debts". EDF initially said it would delay a final investment decision until September 2016.
On 28 July 2016, the EDF board approved the project when 10 out of 17 directors voted yes. Gérard Magnin, a director of EDF who was opposed to the project resigned before the vote. On the same day, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark announced that the government would delay its decision until the autumn of 2016 to "consider carefully all the component parts of this project", including Britain's national security.
On 8 August 2016, Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to Britain, wrote that the UK risked major power shortages by 2025, the Hinkley Point C project is ready to go ahead, the 'UK could not have a better partner than the China General Nuclear Power Corporation', and 'the China-UK relationship is at a crucial historical juncture'.
In August 2016, it was reported that 'civil servants are looking to see if there is any loophole, clause or issue in contracts yet to be signed that allow the Government to pull back without huge loss and while also saving face', that Beijing 'will resist any compromise on the deal', and that one option under consideration is to approve Hinkley Point C but delay a decision on the Bradwell reactor.
In February 2017 The UN, under the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, 'said the UK should consider refraining from further works' until it has heard back from other countries on whether it would be helpful for them to be formally notified under a treaty on transboundary environmental impacts.
July 2008 saw the start of early enabling works with the construction of a car park for a ground investigation programme.
In 2012 EDF purchased the site of the Manor of Sydenham near Bridgwater which had previously been used as a factory site by British Cellophane, including the Grade II listed 16th century building.
In 2014, 400 staff undertook initial preparation and construction work. This work included access roads and roundabouts for increased construction traffic, park and ride schemes for the site workers, and a new roundabout for the village of Cannington. Further plans include the construction of a sea wall and a jetty for ships to deliver sand, aggregate and cement for concrete production.
It was reported in October 2016 that EDF believes a condition to ensure the 'commissioning of the main concrete batching plant' has already been met. Provided the milestone is met within 33 months of contracts being signed, the government has 'no other lever to ensure construction is proceeding as planned'. Delays may result from concerns that steel reactor components may have a higher than expected carbon concentration.
In September 2016, the BBC reported that if construction were to start now, the plant could become operational by 2025.
In March 2017, EDF said that it had 'started pouring concrete' after the Office for Nuclear Regulation gave approval to start building a network of tunnels to carry cabling and piping, with work also under way on a jetty, seawall and accommodation blocks.
In June 2017, an interim pay deal averted strike action by construction workers.
Permits and licences
In November 2012, it was announced that the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) had awarded a nuclear site licence to NNB Generation Company, a subsidiary created by EDF Energy. This was the first nuclear site licence awarded for a nuclear power station in the UK since 1987, when one was granted for the construction of Sizewell B in Suffolk.
In March 2013, three environmental permits setting levels for emissions from the proposed power station were granted and planning consent was given, but agreement on electricity pricing was still required before building could start.
Through 2013, the operator was in negotiations with the Department of Energy and Climate Change and other government agencies. A major sticking point was a demand by EDF Energy for a guaranteed price for the electricity to be produced, which was about twice the current UK electricity rates. The project is part of the UK's plans to implement a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by the mid-2020s, which provides for building Hinkley Point C and several other nuclear power plants. By 2013, the operator had invested about £1 billion in site preparation and other start-up costs. If built, the plant will meet about 7% of the UK's electricity needs.
In September 2016, the government confirmed the project, but following new agreement in principle with EDF, and imposing significant new safeguards for future foreign investment in critical infrastructure.
The UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) on 28 March 2017 granted its first consent to begin construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. The consent covers the placement of the structural concrete for the first nuclear safety-related structure.
Cost to consumers
EDF has negotiated a guaranteed fixed price – a "strike price"– for electricity from Hinkley Point C of £92.50/MWh (in 2012 prices), which will be adjusted (linked to inflation) during the construction period and over the subsequent 35 years tariff period. The strike price could fall to £89.50/MWh if a new plant at Sizewell is also approved.
The National Audit Office estimated that, with UK wholesale electricity prices having fallen to £45/MWh, the additional cost to consumers of 'future top-up payments under the proposed HPC CfD have increased from £6.1 billion in October 2013, when the strike price was agreed, to £29.7 billion in March 2016', a quadrupling of the projected costs to consumers. As such the fixed strike price of HPC subjects the consumers to a risk that they will not benefit from future reductions in electricity prices.
Research carried out by Imperial College Business School argues that no new nuclear power plants would be built in the UK without government intervention. Some pro-nuclear groups have also said that the 'strike price of Hinkley Point C is too high'.
In December 2013, Jim Ratcliffe, the chairman and CEO of Ineos said he had recently agreed to purchase nuclear power in France at £37.94 (€45) per MWh and warned of the Hinkley Point C project: 'Forget it. Nobody in manufacturing is going to go near £95 per MWh'. Also in December 2013, the chairman of Voimaosakeyhtiö SF described the Hinkley Point C "strike price" as 'very high', saying 'subsidies will drive prices up, as everyone will try to get as high a price as possible. Fennovoima (Hanhikivi) will be built without any subsidies, now or ever'.
A 2014 Agora Energiewende study found that new wind and solar generation is up to 50% cheaper than new nuclear, based on what they described as a conservative comparison of current feed-in tariffs in Germany with the agreed strike price for Hinkley Point C. The study does not actually compare UK strike prices for wind and solar energy sources with the proposed UK strike price for nuclear energy, and it ignores a number of external and integration costs, including all costs of grid upgrades expected for wind, solar, and gas sources, and for wind and solar specifically, both the expected future reductions in cost for these sources and most of the increased integration costs for variable energy resources.
According to Jonathan Gaventa, director of the environmental think tank Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G), there are five ways that the UK could be powered at lower cost to the consumers than by Hinkley Point C:
- improved energy efficiency could reduce consumption by more than the projected capacity of HPC, according to a McKinsey report for the government,
- onshore wind power, which is much cheaper and offshore wind power which is likely to also become cheaper than power from the HPC,
- solar power which by 2016 has become cheaper than power from HPC,
- interconnectors to Norway, Denmark and France, according to a report for NIC and
- savings in electricity due to improved storage and flexibility, according to a NIC report for the government.
In August 2016, CEO Henrik Poulsen of DONG Energy argued that the UK's future energy needs can be covered with accelerated construction of cheaper offshore wind farms instead of Hinkley Point C. Poulsen state that wind farms could currently undercut HPC's strike price with £85/MWh, while others in the industry believe that by the mid-2020s the electricity price from offshore wind farms would reach £80/MWh.
On 10 August 2016, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Daily Telegraph wrote that, with growth in energy storage, 'there ceases to be much point in building costly "baseload" power plants such as Hinkley Point. Nuclear reactors cannot be switched on and off as need demands - unlike gas plants. They are useless as a back-up for the decentralized grid of the future, when wind, solar, hydro, and other renewables will dominate the power supply'.
On 26 August 2016, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit released a report on alternatives to Hinkley Point C. It found that a mixture of established approaches including wind farms, cables connecting the UK grid with other countries and gas-fired power stations, together with measures to manage demand, would save the UK around £1 billion per year while keeping the lights on and meeting climate targets.
Return on equity
One analyst at Liberium Capital described the strike price as 'economically insane': "as far as we can see this makes Hinkley Point the most expensive power station in the world... on a leveraged basis we expect EDF to earn a Return on Equity (ROE) well in excess of 20% and possibly as high as 35%".
"Having considered the known terms of the deal, we are flabbergasted that the UK Government has committed future generations of consumers to the costs that will flow from this deal". According to Policy Connect, ROE could be between around 19 and 21%, with "broadly two possible reasons...firstly, the risks faced by EDF could genuinely be greater, therefore commanding a higher rate of return. Alternatively, or in addition, the negotiating process may not have been effective in driving down the expected rate of return relative to risk. A lack of competition in the negotiating process could have been influential here. The European Commission has questioned the likelihood of the first of these explanations, in light of what is already known about the allocation of risk". 
The European Commission decision on 8 October 2014 adjusted the "gain-share mechanism" whereby higher profits are shared with UK taxpayers. Rather than a 50-50 profit share if the project returned above 15%, the revised "gain share mechanism" will see the UK taxpayer get 60 per cent of any profits above a 13.5% return.
The construction cost was given by EDF as £16 billion in 2012, updated to £18 billion in 2015. The European Commission has previously estimated £24.5 billion, including financing costs during construction. Financing for the project will be provided "by the mainly [French] state-owned EDF [and Chinese] state-owned CGN will pay £6bn for one third of it". EDF 'might sell another 15% stake in the project'. In September 2015, George Osborne announced a further £2 billion UK government guarantee for financing of the project. In May 2016, a senior official at China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) said 'the final proposal is for the Chinese to take a 33.5% stake in the project. But this will be a combination of CGN and CNNC. We haven’t yet decided what percentage we are going to invest'.
In February 2016, Jean Bernard Lévy, EDF Chief Executive, confirmed a 68% drop in net profits and cut in dividend, saying that a final investment decision on the project would follow 'when all this is fully organised'. Also in February 2016, another source said 'the question of the funding is far from being resolved, EDF and the French state would need to sell assets under good conditions and in a short period of time, which seems quite complex at the moment considering EDF’s share price'. In March 2016, Thomas Piquemal, EDF's Chief Financial Officer resigned after 'saying the company should wait another three years before making the final investment decision on the project' where Jean Bernard Lévy disagreed 'saying he wanted it to happen as early as next month'. In March 2016, Jean Bernard Lévy wrote to EDF staff that he was in talks to 'obtain commitments from the state to help secure our financial position' and would 'not engage in the [Hinkley Point] project before these conditions are met'. In March 2016, Emmanuel Macron, the French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs said that a final investment decision would not be made until May 2016. On 25 April 2016, EDF announced plans to sell €4 billion of new shares to 'help it finance the building of the Hinkley Point nuclear plant' with the French government subscribing €3 billion of these shares 'as well as taking a scrip dividend option for 2016 and 2017'.
In December 2016 The Economist reported that the British loan guarantees require the EPR reactor Flamanville 3 to be operational by 2020, that the regulator will rule on the future of the Flamanville reactor mid-2017 and that one possible outcome of this ruling can delay its opening far beyond 2018, thus jeopardizing the British loan guarantees thereby preventing EDF from building the EPRs at Hinkley Point.
EDF plans to use two of Areva's EPR design, with a design net power output each of 1,600 MWe (1,630 MWe gross). The four commercial EPR units currently being built are: one at Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland, one at Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant in France, and further two, Taishan 1 & 2, in China.
In December 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists referred to the EPR as the only new reactor design under consideration that "...appears to have the potential to be significantly safer and more secure against attack than today's reactors".
EDF and Areva have been facing 'lengthy delays and steep cost overruns' on EPRs being built at Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant in France and at Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland. In October 2013, George Monbiot, a supporter of nuclear power, said that "the clunky third-generation power station chosen for Hinkley C already looks outdated, beside the promise of integral fast reactors and liquid fluoride thorium reactors. While other power stations are consuming nuclear waste (spent fuel), Hinkley will be producing it." In February 2015, France's energy minister said that 'an overhaul of the country’s state-controlled nuclear energy industry was imminent'. On 13 June 2016, the Fédération Nationale des Cadres Supérieurs unveiled a series of problems with the EPR design, including that the French nuclear safety authority (ASN) may not give the green light to the EPR being constructed at Flamanville due to various anomalies, there may be “identical flaws” in the Areva EPR being built at Taishan 1 in China, falsification of parts from Areva’s Le Creusot plant that potentially put safety checks at risk, and multibillion-euro litigation between Areva and the Finnish energy group TVO over delays to the EPR scheme at Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant remains unsettled.
In 2016, EDF Directors Thomas Piquemal and Gérard Magnin separately resigned over their concerns about the risk of the project. However, Chris Bakken, an EDF Project Manager, has said that EDF has full confidence they 'won’t repeat the mistakes of the Finnish and French EPRs'.
Criticism and organised opposition
A protest group, Stop Hinkley, was formed to campaign for the closure of Hinkley Point B and oppose any expansion at the Hinkley Point site or elsewhere in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary. The group is reportedly concerned that the new generation of power stations will store nuclear waste on site until a permanent repository is found – claiming this is an unknown length of time and, could potentially take decades. The group issued a press release opposing any plans for a new power station on 24 September 2008, when it was announced that EDF had offered to acquire British Energy, the protest group has acknowledged that opposition in the local area is by no means unanimous.
In October 2011, more than 200 protesters blockaded the site. Members of several anti-nuclear groups that are part of the Stop New Nuclear alliance barred access to Hinkley Point power station in protest at EDF Energy's plans to renew the site with two new reactors.
In February 2012, about seven protesters set up camp in an abandoned farmhouse on the site of the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. They were reportedly angry that "West Somerset Council has given EDF Energy the go-ahead for preparatory work before planning permission has been granted". The group also claimed that a nature reserve is at risk from the proposals.
On 10 March 2012, the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, two hundred anti-nuclear campaigners formed a symbolic chain around Hinkley Point to voice their opposition to new nuclear power plants, and to call on the coalition government to hold back on its plan for seven other new nuclear plants across the UK. The human chain was planned to continue for 24 hours, with the activists blocking the main Hinkley Point entrance.
In Germany, the renewable energy supplier Elektrizitätswerke Schönau (EWS) lodged a formal complaint on 28 November 2014 (therefore after the October 2014 European Commission approval), on the basis that the project 'breaches Article 107 TFEU by approving distortive state aids'. EWS also launched an online petition, with about 168,000 supporters by June 2015.
In 2015, Theresa May's political adviser Nick Timothy wrote an article to oppose People's Republic of China's involvement in sensitive sectors such as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project. He criticised David Cameron and George Osborne of "selling our national security to China" without rational concerns and "the Government seems intent on ignoring the evidence and presumably the advice of the security and intelligence agencies." He warned that security experts are worried the Chinese could use their role in the programme (designing and constructing nuclear reactor) to build weaknesses into computer systems which allow them to shut down Britain's energy production at will and "...no amount of trade and investment should justify allowing a hostile state easy access to the country's critical national infrastructure."
On 23 June 2017 the National Audit Office published a report on Hinkley Point C. The conclusions were summarised as follows: “The Department has committed electricity consumers and taxpayers to a high cost and risky deal in a changing energy marketplace. Time will tell whether the deal represents value for money, but we cannot say the Department has maximised the chances that it will be.” Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 23 June 2017.
Political controversy in France
Hinkley Point C was an issue in campaigning for the French presidential election, 2017, the first round of which was held on 23 April 2017. Marine Le Pen's National Front was "fundamentally against" the project while Emmanuel Macron was in support of it.
- March 2008 UK and France announce deal to construct new nuclear power stations
- Early enabling construction work commences
- September 2008 EDF buys British Energy
- May 2009 Centrica announces joint venture with EDF to build new nuclear power stations in UK
- October 2010 Hinkley Point announced as one of the eight candidates by the British government
- April 2011 Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency delay assessment of proposed reactor designs due to Fukushima disaster
- October 2011 Application for development consent by NNB Generation Company was submitted to the Infrastructure Planning Commission
- November 2012 EDF awarded nuclear site licence
- February 2013 Centrica pulls out of joint venture with EDF
- March 2013 EDF granted development consent order from Department for Energy and Climate Change
- October 2013 Government and EDF agree on "strike price" of Hinkley Point C
- 8 October 2014 European Commission announced that it has approved the Hinkley Point C State aid case.
- September 2015, EDF admitted that the project will not complete in 2023, with a further announcement on the final investment decision expected in October 2015.
- 21 September 2015, Government announces £2 billion loan guarantee for the project
- 21 October 2015, State-owned China General Nuclear agrees in principle to invest £6 billion into the project.
- February 2016, EDF again fails to make a final investment decision on proceeding. Financial agreement with CGN yet to be confirmed, and EDF still looking at how it would finance its share of the project.
- 28 July 2016, EDF makes the final investment decision on building Hinkley Point C. On the same day, Theresa May's government announces that it will review the project and 'make its decision in the early autumn' with government sources interpreting this to mean that the project will be approved at that time.
- 31 August 2016, Five staff representatives on the board of EDF file a legal complaint seeking to reverse EDF's decision to go ahead with the Hinkley Point project.
- 15 September 2016, British government gives the go-ahead for Hinkley Point C following a new deal with EDF.
- 27 March 2017, Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) grants consent for construction of Hinkley Point C to begin.
1980s PWR proposal
An earlier proposal for a Hinkley Point C power station was made by the Central Electricity Generating Board in the 1980s for a sister power station to Sizewell B, using the same pressurised water reactor design, at a cost of £1.7 billion. This proposal obtained planning permission in 1990 following a public enquiry, but was dropped as uneconomic in the early 1990s when the electric power industry was privatised and low interest rate government finance was no longer available.
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