Energy

French Union Kills UK Nuclear Plant Worth $26 Billion

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A major French trade union announced Friday that it is “unlikely” to support the construction of the $26 billion Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in the United Kingdom due to financial difficulties and potent environmental opposition.

The French trade union Confédération française de l’encadrement-Confédération générale des cadres (CFE-CGC) announced that it will not support the project’s current plans. The union has been worried since January that financial issues and environmentalist opposition could shut down the project. 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.

The CFE-CFC is skeptical about EDF’s financial difficulties and environmental opposition to the venture. EDF’s chief executive told members of parliament he was confident the plan would go ahead, as the company has already raised enough money to finance the plant, and invested $2.85 billion into the reactors. If the reactor is cancelled outright or suffers further delays, it could devastate the company.

The proposed nuclear plant would include two European Pressurized Reactors, generating 3,200 megawatts of electricity. The reactors would supply up to seven 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 British 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 last September that a similar reactor in Flamanville, France would be delayed. 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.

Another French union, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), shut down the Nogent-sur-Seine nuclear plant in France Wednesday as part of a strike to protest against new pro-market labor regulations passed by the ruling socialist government.

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