UK Nuclear Power Project Faces new Delays, Hurdles

Hinkley Point C rendering

SYLVIE CORBET

Associated Press

PARIS (AP) - A major nuclear power project in Britain is facing more hurdles as the government announced an unexpected delay and unions at EDF, the French energy firm that will build the plant, argued it would be so expensive as to put the company itself at risk.

French unions say the 24-billion-euro ($27 billion) project, which the EDF board approved late Thursday, is far too high and could go over-budget. The French government, which pushed for the project and owns a majority stake in EDF, didn't comment on the company's decision.

Three major French unions said in a statement Friday "we know the success conditions are not all met" for the Hinkley Point power plant project. They have taken legal action against EDF's management to repeal the decision and delay the project. The court decision is expected on Sept. 22.

EDF faces harsh criticism over the cost of the project, with some observers saying the company might not be solid enough to face the investment effort.

French unions also pointed out "technical uncertainties" as the British project is based on a new technology called EPR, which has yet to go online anywhere in the world.

Similar projects currently under construction in France and Finland are years behind schedule and face billions of dollars in cost overruns.

In Britain, speculation grew about the project's future after the British government announced it will take time -at least until early autumn- to consider the details of the project.

The British GMB union immediately denounced it as "unnecessary hesitation" putting 25,000 new jobs at risk. "It is a gross error of judgment and must be reversed," GMB national secretary for energy Justin Bowden said.

The Confederation of British Industry welcomed EDF's green light. Josh Hardie, the business lobby's deputy director-general, stressed that "action is needed on key infrastructure projects" such as Hinkley Point.

The two reactors could ultimately produce 7 percent of British electricity, according to EDF.

The French company is to build the plant in conjunction with Chinese state-owned company CGN, which takes one third of the cost of construction.

CGN said in a statement it "respects" the British government's "need to familiarize itself with a project as important to the UK's future energy security".

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