EDF could build second nuclear plant 'for 20% less than Hinkley Point'

Company claims a plant at Sizewell in Suffolk would be £4bn cheaper than £20bn project

EDF Energy has claimed it could build a second new nuclear power station in Britain that would be 20% cheaper than the £20bn Hinkley Point C project under construction in Somerset.

The French state-owned company said a new plant at Sizewell on the Suffolk coast would be cheaper because of replication in construction techniques, existing grid connections and the exploration of new finance models.

In his first major public speech, Simone Rossi, EDF’s new chief executive, said Sizewell C could be significantly cheaper than Hinkley Point C and competitive with alternatives.

The Italian executive said he was confident he could deliver Hinkley on time, with the first power to be generated by 2025. Other projects in France and Finland with the same reactor design have run years over schedule, and EDF had already warned that the Somerset plan could be 18 months late.

Hinkley is the first nuclear power station to be built in the UK in a generation but was labelled “expensive and risky” by the government’s spending watchdog last year.

One model the heavily indebted company is examining for a £16bn plant at Sizewell is the approach taken by Thames Water for London’s £4.2bn super-sewer, where the project is taken off the company’s balance sheet by creating a new company that other investors pour equity into.

“With government, we started discussing and exploring this avenue that would make investment possible into a nuclear power station by third [party] investors, which would be a novelty,” said Rossi.

Pension funds are among the potential investors EDF is hoping to court. Unlike a consortium seeking a public stake for a separate nuclear power plant at Wylfa in Wales, Rossi said government finance was not a prerequisite.

Thrashing out the financing model for Sizewell was his top aim this year, Rossi told the Guardian. “For this year, our task, our deliverable, is a feasibility study [on financing].”

The chief executive would not be drawn on whether he was sticking to the timetable of his predecessor, Vincent de Rivaz, of the Suffolk plant coming online in 2031. However, he said construction would start while Hinkley was still being built.

Rossi was speaking near the Hinkley Point C site in Somerset, where building continues apace.

Timber-clad buildings have sprung up to house 510 of the 3,000 workers now on-site, up from 1,800 a year ago. Huge concrete and steel tunnel casings lie around, ready to be deployed in the Bristol Channel for 11km of tunnels to take seawater for cooling.

Rossi also used his speech to talk down the extent to which other technologies could provide the new low-carbon power the UK will need from the late 2020s.

Energy efficiency was important but would not be enough to offset a growth in demand as other sectors such as cars turn to electricity, he said. Gas was useful but not green enough to meet the UK’s climate targets, he added.

Wind and solar power were welcome but both were limited in the role they could play, Rossi claimed.

He said Britain had “world class wind” and the recent reductions in windfarm subsidy costs were good news.

On solar, he joked: “As an Italian, I know that Britain is not one of the sunniest places on the planet.” Large-scale battery storage, which EDF was working on in the UK, was useful but run flat in half an hour, he said.

Despite the criticisms of competing technologies, he said Britain should install as much renewable energy as possible.

“To summarise, the recipe is to use as much wind as you can, sprinkle some sun, some batteries, some gas around it, and put on a base of nuclear and put it in the oven,” he said.

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Adam Vaughan

The GuardianTramp

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