EADT Opinion: Nuclear Industry Should Learn to Deliver Projects on Budget and Time

It’s been quite a start to the year. Firstly Energy Minister Andrew Bowie visited Suffolk for the triggering of Sizewell C’s legal planning mechanism – the Development Consent Order – a step we considered wholly premature given that a Final Investment Decision is still some months away. Someone had thought it would be nice if the Minister used the same spade David Cameron had used to ‘break ground’ at Hinkley Point C in 2013. I’m not sure this was the best idea, given Hinkley C’s problems, and the fact that it was another three years before Hinkley C reached a Final Investment Decision in 2016.

A week later the government announced a further £1.3 billion would be invested in Sizewell C, taking the taxpayers’ stake to a total of £2.5 billion. This news was pushed out the night before a crucial EDF board meeting about Hinkley C, presumably because the government knew bad news was coming. 

As indeed it was….Hinkley C will now cost up to £35 billion, almost twice the £18 billion when contracts were signed. Including inflation, the cost becomes a jaw-dropping £46 billion. Completion of Reactor 1 has been pushed to 2029 to 2031, with Reactor 2 about a year later, making the project as much as 6 years late – or 14 years if you consider former EDF chief Vincent de Rivaz’s infamous 2007 claim that we’d all be cooking our Christmas turkeys with HInkley’s power in 2017.

France now appears to be threatening its involvement in Sizewell C unless the UK stumps up more money for HInkley C. Finance Minister, Bruno Le Mair is reported to be planning discussions with Jeremy Hunt, and has previously made no secret of his view that EDF should prioritise the French government’s objectives back home.

This leaves our government in a pickle. The official line is “Hinkley C is not a government project so any additional costs or schedule overruns are the responsibility of EDF and its partners”. How then do Ministers plan to explain to the electorate about Sizewell C, with its billions of taxpayers’ money and intended use of the RAB finance model which would put a nuclear tax on the energy bills of every household throughout construction? Given the inevitability of Sizewell C costing more and taking longer than claimed, the line would have to be “Sizewell C is a government project so any additional costs or schedule overruns are the responsibility of the taxpayer and consumers”. Good luck with that one. How can the government justify doubling our hard earned taxes into Sizewell C when Ministers clearly knew that Hinkley C was spinning out of control? Sizewell C has all the makings of another HS2, sucking up public resources while our schools and the NHS struggle.

Some of you are no doubt saying “you would say that, wouldn’t you, being Stop Sizewell C”? Well it’s worth remembering that Stop Sizewell C’s former iteration, Theberton and Eastbridge Action Group on Szewell (TEAGS) was not opposed to the project but sought to mitigate its impacts. It was a combination of – as one of my colleagues put it – “EDF’s tin ear” and its disastrous track record of building this type of reactor that pushed us into opposition. I’ve been involved since TEAGS was formed. As a Theberton resident with a background in campaigning on environmental and human rights issues, I felt I could make a contribution. Hard to believe that was more than ten years ago!, 

But it’s not just us. Even pro-nuclear, energy advisor Michael Liebreich, in his blog “Don’t say I didn’t warn you”, is in despair about the failure of largescale nuclear projects to deliver. He writess ”I..demand that the nuclear industry owns its problems, stops blaming activists or regulators, and learns to deliver projects on time and on budget. Otherwise, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “if Hinkley C, Flamanville and Olkiluoto are the way the nuclear industry treats its projects, it does not deserve to have any”.

Alison Downes is Executive Director of Stop Sizewell C