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De Rivaz' open letter on Hinkley

While Hinkley Point remains in limbo pending a government commitment to support the project, EDF Energy CEO Vincent de Rivaz has written an open letter addressing questions on security and cost.

UK industry was poised to celebrate the go-ahead for Hinkley Point C on 28 July when the EDF board made its long-awaited final investment decision. However, just hours before a planned press conference at the site the government put on the brakes saying it needed some time to "consider carefully all the component parts of this project and make a decision in the early autumn." Since then the attention of media and commentators has been focused primarily on two aspects of the project: the agreed strike price of £92.50 ($121.03) per MWh generated, and the significant investment by Chinese firms, which some people consider a potential national security issue.

The question of Chinese involvement was roundly dismissed by de Rivaz, writing an open letter in the Sunday Telegraph. "All staff on nuclear projects are rigorously vetted, wherever they come from," he wrote. "As is standard practice, the control systems will be isolated from IT systems and the internet."

"We know and trust our Chinese partners," said de Rivaz, "Beyond that the UK independent nuclear regulator has only granted Hinkley Point a nuclear site licence after being satisfied that security has been properly addressed."

Such concerns are also ignorant of what de Rivaz described as "a 30-year partnership between EDF and CGN in nuclear construction in China", which has the largest nuclear program in the world, including two reactors of the same EPR design, nearing completion at Taishan.

All UK new-build plans involve foreign ownership: As well as EDF being French and investors CGN and CNNC being Chinese, the owner of Horizon Nuclear Power is Japan's Hitachi, while NuGen is jointly owned by Toshiba of Japan and Engie of Belgium. Significantly, however, part of the Hinkley Point deal would grant the Chinese investors the opportunity to build a new nuclear plant at the Bradwell site.

"We need to replace our ageing fossil fuel plants with new low-carbon electricity. It's a more complex future with interconnectors, batteries, gas, small and large nuclear, renewables, central and decentralised generation. The challenge is to get the right mix," wrote de Rivaz, "There is no single technology which offers a panacea for our future needs. We need them all, including new nuclear."

Wind power has grown significantly in the UK in recent years and now provides about 15% of electricity. However, de Rivaz also noted that auctions for offshore wind have recently averaged £137 per MWh, with a further £10 per MWh required to cover its intermittency, which compares poorly to Hinkley Point's £92.50 per MWh.

Hinkley Point C has regulatory approval as well as planning permission. With Chinese investment secured and EDF's board having made the decision to build, the only remaining piece of the project structure is final government signature on the Contract for Difference scheme that will provide a fixed income from generation. The new government of prime minister Theresa May has not announced a more specific date for this than "early autumn".

"Across Britain, dozens of companies and our own workforce are ready to deliver this project. Their motivation remains high and they are looking forward to getting on with the job," de Rivaz concluded.

 ©2016 World Nuclear Association. First published at