UK’s first nuclear plant in 20yrs to get final approval

A sign is seen outside Hinkley Point B Power Station in Bridgwater, southwest England © Suzanne Plunkett
A spending decision on the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in the UK is expected to get final approval on Thursday. If agreed, the £18 billion project will be the first nuclear plant to be built in the country in two decades.

The French state-owned energy company EDF is holding a board meeting to decide whether to give the green light to the major nuclear power plant project in southwest England. It would generate seven percent of Britain's power providing electricity for about six million homes.  

The Hinkley Point (HPC) nuclear power plant is expected to have an estimated lifetime of 60 years and is scheduled to begin generating in 2025, several years later than planned.

EDF is financing most of the project’s cost, while Chinese investors are expected to take a 33.5 percent stake. The main reason for the delay has been worries over funds, with French trade unions warning the massive investment could ruin EDF’s finances.

“HPC is a unique asset for French industry as it would benefit the whole of the nuclear industry and support employment in major companies and smaller enterprises in the sector,” said EDF.

UK unions said they would warmly welcome a positive decision on the project which would provide 25,000 jobs.

“We urge the EDF board to give the financial go-ahead on a project which will generate thousands of decent skilled jobs and help meet the energy needs of the UK for generations to come,” said Kevin Coyne, Unite union’s national officer for energy.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have called for investment in renewable energy instead. They criticized the government's promise to pay EDF £92.50 for each megawatt hour of energy it generates. Activists also raise concerns the plant is being built by foreign governments at a time when some countries, like Germany, are moving away from nuclear energy.

READ MORE: UK could generate almost all power from renewables by 2030 – Greenpeace

“The UK government doesn’t have to sign the contract with the French and Chinese state-owned nuclear companies,” said John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace.

“We need to invest in reliable homegrown renewable energy like offshore wind which is powering other northern European countries more cheaply than Hinkley, even taking into account the back-up cost when the wind doesn’t blow,” he added.

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Greenpeace said the UK does not have to be dependent on nuclear power and fossil fuels, while by 2030 the country could produce more than 80 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and tidal power.