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EDF has warned that it is now “urgent” for the UK government to decide on the future of the £20bn Sizewell C nuclear power station, including whether China’s CGN should remain involved in the project.
Simone Rossi, head of the French utility’s UK arm, is hoping to take a final investment decision by the end of 2022 on the nuclear plant earmarked for Suffolk on England’s east coast, which would generate enough electricity for 6m homes but is strongly opposed by environmental groups.
Before EDF could commit to building the plant, Rossi said it needed UK ministers to settle matters such as which partners were involved and legislation on the preferred funding model.
“I think really the time is now for all those decisions to coalesce together and say right: ‘Do we want to do it or not?’ And if we want to do it how are we going to do it?” Rossi told the Financial Times. “This is all now urgent.”
The state of Britain’s new nuclear programme has been thrown into stark relief by the recent surge in wholesale gas prices, which has underscored how dependent the country’s energy system remains on overseas imports of the fossil fuel.
Ministers want to accelerate the shift towards low-carbon sources of electricity, including nuclear.
Yet all but one of Britain’s current fleet of nuclear power stations will close by the end of the decade.
The first new nuclear plant in a generation, Hinkley Point C in Somerset, which is being built by EDF, will not start electricity production until 2026, while questions remain over the future of several other proposed sites.
EDF is keen for a swift government decision on Sizewell so it can transfer workers from Hinkley. Sizewell will use the same reactor design as Hinkley.
State-owned CGN holds a 20 per cent stake in Sizewell, and has an option to participate in the construction. EDF holds the remaining 80 per cent.
Rossi said CGN’s continued participation in the project was “a matter for the UK government to decide”.
The Financial Times reported in July that ministers were examining ways to remove CGN from UK nuclear projects following a deterioration in relations between London and Beijing over issues including the clampdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
UK officials are considering plans for the government to take on CGN’s 20 per cent stake in Sizewell and either sell the shareholding on to institutional investors or float it on the stock market.
Rossi admitted the viability of Sizewell could hinge on investment from North American funds, which would prove problematic if CGN were to remain involved. Washington in 2019 put CGN on an export blacklist over accusations of theft of US technology for military use.
“We will have to rely on all backers, including US backers, as the absolute amount of funds we need to raise is considerable,” said Rossi. “We will have to be very wide in our reach to the market.”
Some analysts have suggested CGN could pull out of the Hinkley project if it was excluded from the Sizewell plan.
But Rossi said he thought Sizewell could be dealt with in isolation, saying: “I don’t see any reasons why CGN would want to walk away from a good investment such as Hinkley Point.”
The UK business department said it was seeking to approve at least one new large nuclear plant “in the next few years” as atomic power had “a key role to play as we work to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and exposure to volatile global gas prices”.
It added that negotiations on Sizewell were “ongoing” and “no final decision has been taken”. CGN declined to comment.
Read More: EDF chief urges UK to clarify future of nuclear power station