EDF plan contingency as fear Centrica next to pull nuclear plug

EDF is planning for worst case scenario should Centrica LSE: CNA walk away from their joint venture to build a new wave of nuclear power stations.

The Independent reports that following the pull out of German companies RWE and E.on there are now fears that the whole programme could eventually be shelved.

Nuclear power plant

Whitehall officials believe the programme remains safe provided the EDF consortium ploughs ahead. EDF is the biggest player in UK nuclear power, operating eight of the existing, but ageing, reactors. The venture is the most far advanced in its planning: its first reactor, at Hinkley Point in Somerset, is due to be up and running by 2019.

It is also the only one of the three consortiums set up to develop the plants that has been at least partly led by a British company. The third, NuGen, brings together Spain's Iberdrola and France's GDF Suez.

However, an industry source said that Centrica remains "agnostic" on the country's new nuclear programme. A key investment decision is due to be made later this year on whether it is sensible for the British Gas owner to go ahead with involvement.

Although EDF is confident that Centrica will stay on board, executives are thought to be considering whether EDF could fund the stations itself if necessary. This would be financially risky, so other parties would probably be invited to take a stake.

The Government is keen to get more reactors built because, by 2023, only one of the existing plants, EDF's Sizewell B, will still be operational. Although nuclear stations are costly to build and often fall behind schedule and go over budget, once running they are widely considered to be the cheapest source of clean energy.

A Whitehall source said: "The UK's new nuclear programme is one of the most advanced in the world with three developers planning to build 16 GW of new reactors on five sites. This will provide a major boost in our drive to reduce carbon and add to security of supply at the lowest price."

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