Hinkley Point nuclear power station given go-ahead

Hinkley C

Artist's impression of the Hinkley C site in Somerset

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey, has today (19 March), granted planning consent for the construction of the UK’s first new nuclear power station since 1995, in a move intended to boost a low-carbon energy mix.

The £14-billion Hinkley Point C project in Somerset will be built by a subsidiary of French energy company EDF, NNB Generation Company (NNB GenCO), on the existing Hinkley nuclear power site. 

The plant will be the third reactor to be built on the site, after Hinkley A (which closed in the year 2000) and Hinkley B (set to close in 2016).

The decision follows three years of consultation with local communities and a year-long examination by the UK Planning Inspectorate. 

Once operational, each of the reactors will generate 1,600 megawatts of electricity – enough to power the equivalent of five million households – making it one of the largest nuclear power stations in the UK.

Two new reactors will be built under plans for the project and will reportedly support between 20,000 and 25,000 jobs during construction and 900 permanent jobs during operation.

Hinkley will enhance 'energy security'

Speaking about the decision to give the plant planning consent, Davey said: “The planning decision to give consent to Hinkley Point follows a rigorous examination from the Planning Inspectorate, and detailed analysis within my department. 

“I am confident that the planning decision I have made is robust, evidence-based, compatible with the Energy National Policy Statements and is in the best interests of the country.  

“It’s vital to get investment in new infrastructure to get the economy moving. Low-carbon energy projects will bring major investment, supporting jobs and driving growth.

“This planned project adds to a number of new energy projects consented since May 2010, including wind farms and biomass and gas-fired power stations.

“This planned new nuclear power station in Somerset will generate vast amounts of clean energy and enhance our energy security. It will benefit the local economy, through direct employment, the supply chain and the use of local services.”

EDF Energy Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz added: “Receiving permission to construct a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C is a huge achievement, which represents years of hard work. It reflects an extraordinary level of professionalism and work from EDF Energy’s planning team, the Planning Inspectorate, local authorities and a wide range of stakeholders. 

“This decision sets up a huge opportunity for this project to provide enormous benefits to the UK in jobs, skills, cutting carbon emissions and future energy security. We are ready to deliver and an extensive supply chain is standing by to begin work.” 

A ‘strike’ price, the price at which electricity will be charged, has not yet been decided, though de Rivaz said that it must “offer a fair and balanced deal for consumers and investors”. 

EDF has said it is in “intensive discussions with the government” to agree the Contracts for Difference

“The success of this pioneering project will kick start the new nuclear programme in the UK and is expected to lead to lower costs for successive UK nuclear plants”, de Rivaz concluded. 

Local opposition

The news of the planning permission has been greeted with anger from local campaigners, as there have been several questions over the environmental and health impact the plant will have on the local area.

Members from the Stop Hinkley group, Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) and other organisations, argued that the plant’s radioactive emissions have been underestimated and that it would discharge more than outlined in its environmental permits.

Seawater will be pumped in via underground tunnels to cool the two nuclear reactors and then filter back to the Bristol Channel with ‘low levels’ of radioactivity. Higher-level radioactive waste will be sent to a dedicated waste management facility.

According to the campaign group, independent consultants reviewed the methods used to assess the environmental impacts of radioactive emissions, and found they would not be ‘sufficient’ or ‘wide-ranging enough’ to discover the effects on the marine environment.

However, “after careful consideration”, the Environment Agency (EA) granted Hinkley C three environmental permits last Wednesday (13 March), allowing the plant to discharge and dispose of radioactive wastes, discharge cooling water and liquid effluents into the Bristol Channel, and operate standby power supply systems using diesel generators. 

Campaigner Nikki Clarke has said that the EA has “ignored” Stop Hinkley’s claims: "The concerns that we have raised should have been addressed in a satisfactory way, before the granting of the permits, but all [the agency] are doing is rubber-stamping and facilitating the government policy, and ignoring every other voice." 

In a statement the EA denied the allegation, saying: "We came to our decisions to issue the Hinkley Point C permits only after careful consideration of all the responses we received following the two periods of public consultation. 

"We are surprised that Stop Hinkley says we haven't addressed the NFLA's points. There is an entire section in our final decision document specifically dedicated to the NFLA's comments." 

According to EDF, the impact submissions included 55,000 pages of ‘detailed evidence’, more than 100 public meetings and exhibitions, as well as individual responses to 33,000 comments received from the public and stakeholders. 

Hinkley C ‘fails every test’ 

Environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have also weighed in on the decision, with Greenpeace voicing concern that: the strike price for energy from the plant could be as high as £100/MWh (approximately double the current market price for electricity); that since Cumbria withdrew from the search for an underground nuclear waste storage site, ‘we have nowhere to put the waste; and that any delay to the facility, as has happened in the construction of similar reactors in Europe, could ‘undermine the UK’s ability to hit its climate targets and keep the lights on’.

Greenpeace Executive Director John Sauven said: “Hinkley C fails every test – economic, consumer, environmental, and arguably legal. It will lock a generation of consumers into higher energy bills, via a strike price that’s expected to be double the current price of electricity, and it will distort energy policy by displacing newer, cleaner, cheaper technologies.

"With companies now saying the price of offshore wind will drop so much it will be on par with nuclear by 2020, there is no rationale for allowing Hinkley C to proceed.

“Giving it the green light when there is no credible plan for dealing with the waste could also be in breach of the law. The Prime Minister has said himself that until the waste issue is sorted, no new investment is possible.”

Friends of the Earth’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett, added that "little has changed" since the "Alice-in-Wonderland economics of the nuclear industry killed off previous plans for a new reactor at Hinkley".

“The only way this plant will be built is if the government hands over a blank cheque from UK taxpayers to French developers, EDF.

"The most cost-effective way to cut carbon and keep the lights on is a combination of energy efficiency and investing in renewables, the cost of which are falling year on year.

“For decades nuclear industry has over-promised and under-delivered – we can’t afford to keep throwing money at it.”

The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) granted a nuclear site licence to NNB GenCo on 26 November 2012.

Read more about nuclear waste and the Hinkley C project.