U.K. taxpayers could be stuck paying $31.6 billion if the British government shuts down the Hinkley Point nuclear power station for political reasons, according to newly released government documents.
The plant has been subject to intense opposition by environmentalist members of Parliament, even though they passed the government’s environmental review process.
The reactor was licensed by the U.K. government in 2012, but environmental and financial concerns have kept the project in the planning stage.
“In certain, highly unlikely scenarios where there is a political shutdown of [Hinkley] by a UK, EU or international competent authority, payments could be up to around [$31.6 billion] excluding non-decommissioning operational costs that may be incurred after any shutdown,” officials at the British Department of Energy and Climate Change told The Times,
French company Electricite de France (EDF) is building the reactors. The company has serious financial problems and the project’s credit rating is below investment grade. EDF has repeatedly delayed making a decision about whether or not to build the nuclear plant, but has already invested $2.85 billion into the reactors.
EDF is more than $40 billion in debt and has a history of abandoning or delaying similar reactors in France.
The proposed nuclear plant would include two European Pressurized Reactors that generate 3,200 megawatts of electricity. This type of reactor has a long history of cost overruns, delays, bad management and legal difficulties. However, the proposed reactors could supply up to 7 percent of the U.K.’s electricity and the government claims they are essential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Nuclear power is on the decline in Britain, and the country has started decommissioning reactors to comply with environmentalist pressures.
The wind power which environmentalists want to replace the U.K.’s reactors with is nearly four times as expensive as electricity from existing nuclear power plants, according to analysis from the Institute for Energy Research. The rising cost of subsidies is passed to ordinary ratepayers, which has triggered complaints that poor households are subsidizing the affluent.
A 2012 YouGov poll showed 63 percent of U.K. respondents agreed nuclear reactors 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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