The project to build Britain’s first nuclear reactor in a generation has been delayed until months after the general election because its Chinese backers have demanded that the French government protect them if it goes bust.
The fallout threatens to delay the £16 billion Hinkley Point scheme’s start date of 2023 and further undermines confidence in Britain’s faltering nuclear rennaissance. EDF Energy, the French state-backed company leading the project in Somerset, originally promised to give the go-ahead by July last year, but now it is expected to wait until this September or October.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons energy and climate change select committee, said: “I’m disappointed by the further delay and hope it can be resolved quickly.”
In October 2013, the state-backed China General Nuclear Power Corp and China National Nuclear Corp provisionally agreed to take a stake of about 40 per cent in the project, which ultimately will be financed by levies on household energy bills.
However, they have serious concerns about Hinkley Point’s European pressurised reactor design from Areva, the loss-making (and also state-backed) French group.
The Chinese companies are refusing to invest unless the French government promises to bail out Areva, if necessary, and cover their share of any cost overruns. Projects to build the same Areva-designed reactors at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have been delayed by at least five years and are more than three times over budget.