French government issues statement of support for Hinkley Point

In the wake of IF’s recent report recommending that Hinkley Point should be scrapped, the French government has confirmed it still intends to support the project. David Kingman explains

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Following the publication of IF’s recent Toxic Time Capsule report which called for the new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point to be scrapped, speculation has continued to mount over the project’s future. However, a recent statement from the French government, which will pay a vital role in the key decisions about it, suggests that that IF’s advice will not be heeded.

France “completely committed” to building Hinkley Point

During an episode of the Andrew Marr Show which aired on BBC1 on 17 April, Emmanuel Macron – the current French Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs – said that he remained “completely committed” to the building of Hinkley Point, which he argued was a “very important” project for France and EDF.

He particularly highlighted the importance of boosting France’s commitment to nuclear energy when explaining why he continued to support the project, and indicated that he hoped a final deal could be signed in the coming week:

“We back Hinkley Point project, it’s very important for France, it’s very important for the nuclear sector and EDF. Now we have to finalise the work, and especially the technical and industrial work, very closely with EDF, with the British government, to be in a situation to sign in the coming week or more.  [The project will definitely go ahead], because I think it’s very important for our commitment to nuclear energy.”

This statement of support is important to the beleaguered Hinkley Point project, as EDF still needs the French government to agree to provide the necessary financial assistance without which they will not be able to participate. The current state of the deal is that, despite the planned investment by its Chinese partners, EDF still needs to provide two-thirds of the estimated £18 billion cost of developing the project, an amount greater than the firm’s market value.

The support of the French government’s economic minister would appear to indicate that the necessary financial assistance will be forthcoming. However, Emmanuel Macron’s statement somewhat contradicts the position adopted by another member of the French government, the energy minister Ségolène Royal, who just days earlier had said during a television interview that the option of postponing the project was still under discussion.

Tilting at windmills?

The publication of IF’s report, which argued that Hinkley Point should be scrapped in favour of renewable energy because it will impose unjustifiable economic and environment costs on future generations who haven’t agreed to it, has been accompanied by a mounting drumbeat of criticism facing the project as a whole.

Shortly before the launch of IF’s report, the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change select committee held a one-off evidence session into the future of new nuclear projects in the UK, at which the impartial expert witnesses who appeared damned the project unanimously on economic and environmental grounds.

And just over a month ago, EDF’s finance director, Thomas Piquemal, resigned from the company partly because he thought the Hinkley Point project was likely to damage EDF’s financial position, reports suggested. Were EDF to pull out of the project, it would almost certainly be back to square one for the plans to expand the UK’s nuclear capacity by ultimately building a total of five new reactors, as none of the other proposed schemes is anywhere near as developed as Hinkley Point yet.

Of course, IF would argue that such an outcome would represent a lucky escape for the UK – and it may even represent one for the nuclear industry as well. During the select committee evidence session mentioned above, Dr Douglas Parr, Policy Director at Greenpeace UK, referred in passing to the idea that the building of Hinkley Point could be one of the best things that’s ever happened to Britain’s anti-nuclear campaigners:

“There was a blog last week by a well known nuclear sceptic saying that the anti-nuclear group should now start campaigning in favour of Hinkley Point C being built, because it is going to be so damaging to the nuclear industry as a whole, in terms of how it is seen internationally, that it is going to be a millstone round their neck.”