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French Reactor Problems Cast Doubt On UK Decarbonisation Plans

Jim Pickard, Financial Times

Problems with a reactor in northern France have triggered deep concern in the British government about the future of the UK’s first new nuclear power station for 20 years at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

EDF Energy, the French state-owned company behind Hinkley, has suffered a five-year delay and escalating costs at its flagship Flamanville project in Normandy.

The £7bn French scheme — designed to showcase new atomic technology — is based on an “EPR” European pressurised reactor, the same model that will be used in Hinkley.

Further concerns mounted last week when a leaked report from France’s nuclear safety watchdog highlighted faults in Flamanville’s cooling system.

That followed a warning in April by the French Nuclear Safety Regulator that there was an excessive amount of carbon in the steel of the reactor vessel.

EDF’s struggles in France have prompted worries at a senior level of the Treasury about the £24bn Hinkley scheme.

“I think there are serious questions about the technology,” said one Treasury figure. “Only if that can be fixed is there a desire to go ahead with it . . . on balance.”

Senior officials have discussed whether to “start from scratch” with a different, more established reactor technology from elsewhere.

The Hinkley project, which would provide 7 per cent of Britain’s electricity, is the first of several reactors in the pipeline: with others planned for Anglesey and Cumbria.

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