French Union Trying To Stop Construction On $26 Billion UK Nuke Plant

(REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A major French trade-union has delayed the construction of a nuclear power plant worth $26 billion in the United Kingdom after various financial difficulties and potent environmental opposition.

The French trade union Confédération française de l’encadrement – Confédération générale des cadres (CFE-CGC) expressed concern Monday that “significant” financial issues related to the a proposed nuclear plant in Somerset, England. Electricite de France (EDF), the company contracted to construct the reactor, has serious financial problems and the project’s credit rating is below investment grade. EDF announced Wednesday that a decision whether or not to build the nuclear plant would be delayed.

“What is the rationale for starting construction on two EPRs [European pressurized reactors], at the same site, in such a short period of time?” A letter from CFE-CGC to EDF asked. CFE-CGC largely represents professional employees in management or executive positions.

The CFE-CFC is skeptical about EDF’s financial difficulties and environmental opposition to the project. EDF has already invested $2.85 billion into the reactors, and a cancellation of the projection or a significant delay could devastate the company.

The proposed nuclear plant would include two European Pressurized Reactors, generating 3,200 megawatts of electricity. The reactors could supply up to 7 percent of the U.K.’s electricity and the U.K. government claims the reactors are essential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The reactors have been subject to intense opposition by environmentalists, even though they passed the U.K. government’s environmental review process.

“It is shocking to think that both EDF and the U.K. government are determined to push ahead with a project that EDF’s own staff say is too risky and too expensive, potentially threatening the survival of the company,” John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace U.K., told The Financial Times. Greenpeace opposes the construction of all new nuclear reactors as the organization believes they represent an “unacceptable risk to the environment and to humanity.”

EDF is more than $40 billion in debt and announced that a similar reactor in Flamanville, France would be delayed last September. European Pressurized Reactors in general have a long history of cost overruns, delays, bad management and legal difficulties.

A 2012 YouGov poll showed that 63 percent of U.K. respondents agreed that nuclear generation should be part of the country’s energy mix, up from 61 percent in 2010. Opposition to nuclear power fell to 11 percent from 15 percent.

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