Sizewell: N-plant doubts as EDF cuts back at Hinkley

What the proposed Sizewell C plant would look like

What the proposed Sizewell C plant would look like - Credit: Copyright EDF Energy 2012 - Stag

PROPOSALS for a third power station on the Suffolk coast have been struck by another potential hammer blow after developers announced spending cuts and job losses at a plant planned for the South West.

EDF Energy announced it would be “refocusing its activities” in order to control costs on its planned Hinkley C station in Somerset, including a reduction in the number of people working on the project.

It follows disquiet earlier this week from 18 leading nuclear scientists who claimed that proposals to establish a new suite of nuclear plants, including Sizewell C, could be derailed by a lack of progress on the first of the projects.

The company said it remained committed to Sizewell C and would be presenting results of the first consultation stage to the community as planned in Snape tomorrow.

But campaigners said the decision to refocus efforts at Hinkley Point was a “significant” setback and would surely delay progress at Sizewell, possibly postponing work indefinitely.

There remains stalemate between EDF and the Government over subsidies for the Hinkley C project, with the French firm requesting a higher guaranteed price for the electricity it generates - or “strike price” - than the Treasury is willing to part with.

EDF had hoped to sew up negotiations by the end of last year, and said its latest decision reflected its priorities ahead of securing necessary finance for the project.

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Union leaders have blamed the Government for the impasse, claiming that more delays could lead to “disaster” for employment and carbon free power.

Tim Yeo, South Suffolk MP and chairman of the Energy Select Committee, said he was a strong advocate of nuclear power but remained concerned about the progress of negotiations. He added: “There has to be compromise. Because nuclear policy has been neglected for so long, it does not put the Government in a strong position.”

Mr Yeo admitted the move may be seen a display of brinkmanship by EDF but suggested the Government could “give ground” at Hinkley with the an agreement to commit less when EDF moves focus to Sizewell.

At Sizewell C, which has always been linked to progress on Hinkley Point C, EDF said work will continue on completing analyses of the first consultation findings and completing essential studies. A spokeswoman added: “We remain committed to Sizewell C and we are meeting with the Sizewell C community forum this Thursday to present preliminary results of the consultation which lasted 11 weeks and engaged with more than 4,000 people at almost 100 events.”

As negotiations continue with the government, the number of workers is being reduced at Hinkley Point, where around 800 people are currently employed.

A company statement said: “As part of good project management, and to control costs, EDF Energy has taken steps to refocus its activities at its Hinkley Point C project. This reflects its priorities ahead of securing the financing necessary for the project.

“In this context much activity including further detailed pre-construction engineering work will continue ahead of the later construction phase. This means there will be a reduction in the number of people working on the project for the time being.

“Negotiations with the UK Government to agree a contract for the electricity from Hinkley Point C are making progress.”

Joan Girling, of campaign group Together Against Sizewell C, said: “My first reaction is not at all one of surprise.

“This is the first significant knock EDF has taken in this country. It will have to draw in its horns over the strike price.

“Sizewell has always been an undesirable place to build. It’s a planning nightmare. It’s not big enough for two plants but we keep being told that without two it’s not economically viable.

“I will be interested to hear what EDF has to say when it presents its consultation results. I hope it will be the first stage of a withdrawal.”

EDF has invested nearly £1bn into Hinkley C but announced last month it would be scaling back spending until there was greater clarity around negotiations with the Government.

Meanwhile, trade unionists have accused the Government of quibbling over the deal. Unite national officer Kevin Coyne said: “The project has hardly got under way and EDF are having to cut jobs at the site. This is extremely disappointing and the blame lies squarely with the Government for prevaricating over the strike price.

“It’s time for the Government to give EDF the certainty it needs so the company can get on with the job of meeting the UK’s energy needs.”

Phil Whitehurst, of the GMB union, which is still in talks with EDF over sector specific agreements, said: “This is disappointing news for this essential infrastructure project.

“This Government has shown yet again its ineptitude in failing to conclude negotiations for the strike price for power from this nuclear station.

“The thousands of construction workers due on the project will not be needed for some time and some of those now there face being laid off.

“There is now a serious worry that delays could derail this project. That would be a disaster for both employment and for the carbon free power the station will generate.”

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