The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station may not be completed until 2031, while costs are also expected to increase, EDF Energy has warned.
The UK Government has thrown its support behind nuclear energy as the future backbone of the UK’s energy supply, with it having set out a vision for the massive expansion of the country’s nuclear capacity earlier this month. However, while it may have big ambitions, the current reality is that the UK is struggling to develop its nuclear capacity.
EDF has warned that its flagship Hinkley Point C nuclear power station is facing construction delays due to a myriad of reasons – including inflation, Covid and Brexit. That could push up the final bill of the construction of the power station to £35 billion, £2.3 billion more than initially estimated.
Hinkley Point C has been plagued with problems since first being proposed in 2007. While construction finally began in 2016, the delays between the initial proposal and shovels in the ground have led to ever-increasing costs for the project and a completion date that seemingly never gets closer.
Timeline of Hinkley Point C delays and cost overruns
In 2007, EDF’s then-Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz predicted that UK households would be cooking their Christmas turkeys using power from Hinkley Point C. A year later in 2008, the UK Government took the step to officially earmark the plans as a potential site in a ‘nuclear renaissance’.
Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government finally approved the construction of Hinkley Point C in 2013, but EDF continued to wait for the final sign-off before beginning work on the new power station. That wouldn’t come until September 2016, at which point it was estimated that the power station would cost £18.1 billion to complete.
Having begun construction that same year, EDF was well on the way to delivering the first in a new generation of nuclear power plants to be constructed in the UK. However, it didn’t take long for cracks in the project to begin to show. In 2017, costs were revised upwards by £1.5 billion to £19.6 billion, while the initial completion date was set for 2025.
Since then, EDF has constantly pushed completion of the project back, while costs have also skyrocketed. As of the latest estimate, EDF says that the final bill could come to £35 billion, although that’s based on 2015 prices – meaning when accounting for inflation, it’s likely to cost significantly more.
Additionally, completion of the project could be delayed a further three years. Last year, it was expected that Hinkley Point C would finish construction in September 2028, although EDF is no longer confident that it will finish in time. Now, it’s offering three scenarios ranging from the power station becoming operational in 2029 to delays pushing this back to 2031.
What is causing the new problems at Hinkley Point C?
While problems at Hinkley Point C are anything but new, it is important to note that the worst case scenario of the £35 billion final budget is expected to only come to fruition in the event that construction is delayed to 2031.
Additionally, it appears that the majority of Hinkley Point C’s problems in the last few years can be explained away. For instance, Stuart Crooks, the project’s Managing Director, noted “Dome lift happened 24 months later than we had planned when we began in 2016. Of that delay, 15 months was due to the global pandemic. So, beyond Covid, we’ve lost nine months since we started. That’s not perfect, but for the first nuclear plant to be built in Britain since 1995, it’s not bad.”
Covid can also be partially blamed for the recent increase in inflation that has been impacting the construction industry more widely, which will naturally have an impact on the Hinkley Point C project. China General Nuclear, which was EDF’s partner on the project, has also halted its share of the funding, which came after the UK Government barred it from having a role in the development of the Sizewell C nuclear power station.