Wait goes on for Sizewell C as its sister station Hinkley Point C faces further delays

Sizewell C groundwork

Sizewell C groundwork - Credit: Archant

Disappointment was voiced last night over renewed uncertainty for Suffolk residents waiting for a decision on Sizewell’s new nuclear reactors.

Sizewell C

Sizewell C - Credit: Copyright EDF Energy 2012 - Stag

The Government had originally hoped new powerstations at Sizewell and Hinkley Point would be up and running by 2025 to help plug an emerging gap in energy supply – now both are delayed. Richard Cornwell reports.

Wind back 12 months and the message was much the same – no further progress will be made on a new twin nuclear reactor on the Suffolk coast until its sister station in Somerset is finalised.

EDF Energy and the Government had been hoping for a financial investment decision on Hinkley Point C by the end of last year.

A year on and the position is the same. Still they wait, with the latest speculation that an agreement could be reached this autumn.

An artist's impression of the Hinkley Point C power station
Image courtesy of EDF Energy.

An artist's impression of the Hinkley Point C power station Image courtesy of EDF Energy. - Credit: Image courtesy of EDF Energy

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The delays have at last led Jean-Bernard Levy, EDF’s chairman and managing director, to admit that Hinkley Point C will not start generating power in 2023 as planned.

Inevitably, every delay for Hinkley has a knock-on set-back for Sizewell C because agreement for Hinkley is the trigger which will set the ball rolling for the £16billion Suffolk project.

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Only when the financial investment decision at Hinkley is announced will the long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated second stage of public consultation on Sizewell take place, giving fuller details of projects such as park-and-ride schemes, road improvements and worker accommodation sites.

It is now nearly three years since the first consultation and while there has never been a timetable for Sizewell C, the company cannot have expected the project to have taken so long. An EDF spokeswoman said the latest announcements would have no impact on Sizewell C and the company remained committed to nuclear power for the UK equally as strongly as it is for France.

She said both twin reactor plants at Sizewell and Hinkley were “steadily progressing”.

However, Suffolk Coastal’s deputy leader and chairman of its Sizewell C task group, Geoff Holdcroft had been hoping for more progress rather than less.

He said: “The news about Hinkley Point C is disappointing as it will prolong the uncertainty about Sizewell C for local people.

“It is now nearly three years since the initial consultation and local people would welcome some firm news about the plans. However, behind-the-scenes, we are working diligently to make sure we are in a position to respond effectively as soon as EDF is able to make further progress and make sure we are best placed to represent the needs of the community.”

At the start of the Sizewell C project, some optimists had suggested construction could have started this year, and only last year industry observers were talking about electricity generation by 2028.

Government ministers had originally been hoping that both Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C would be up and running by 2025 to help plug an emerging gap in energy supply. When Sizewell C will be built, though, is still up in the air.

EDF has been careful to steer clear of any suggested timetable.

Latest estimates say that if the second stage of consultation was to take place over this winter – described as a “realistic” expectation by Suffolk Coastal council officials – then the third and final stage of consultation could take place by the end of 2016 or early 2017.

That would lead to submission of final plans to the Planning Inspectorate sometime during 2017 or 2018 with a decision by the secretary of state for energy around a year later.

After that, Sizewell will go through processes for financial investment and contracts, so a start on site could still be some time away – and construction would take seven to nine years. Commissioning and electricity generation would be beyond that.

The Unite union voiced strong concern about any delay to the nuclear new-build programme, urging the Government to intervene to speed up a final decision on when a new power station will be built in the UK or leave the country facing the “very real prospect” of power cuts.

Unite national officer Kevin Coyne said: “This delay is very bad news for the UK as energy capacity is very stretched at present, as we have lost energy resources in recent years as old coal-fired stations are phased out.

“Business and domestic consumers face the very real prospect of power cuts and the lights going out in the years to come, if the final investment decision on Hinkley Point – the first new UK nuclear power plant in decades – is not made very soon”

Mr Levy made his comments at a press conference in France announcing that a European pressurised reactor (EPR) nuclear plant at Flamanville in Normandy will not be up and running until 2018, a year later than previously announced.

Mr Levy said: “All of the experience gained at Flamanville will be invaluable for other EPR projects, and for Hinkley Point C in particular. I have total confidence in the success of the Hinkley Point project, which is based on a realistic estimate of costs and timetable. We are drawing the lessons from Flamanville to apply them to Hinkley Point C, and that project has clear oversight and controls in place.

“Even though the final investment decision (FID) has been pushed back from the initial previsions, the construction time will stay the same, which means that the commissioning date will be updated at the point when FID is made.

“The final investment decision will be made by EDF’s board. We are in final discussions with the British Government and our Chinese partners. We hope to make this final investment decision as soon as possible.”

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