Brussels deal paves the way for new nuclear plants in Britain

However, the Austrian Government has vowed to press ahead with a legal challenge to block plans for a new reactor at Hinkley Point

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The Independent Online

Britain’s first new nuclear power station since the 1990s is closer to construction after the European Union approved a Government plan to provide 35 years of financial support to a new plant at Hinkley Point.

EDF’s plans for the £16bn reactor on the Somerset coast, which would heat nearly six million homes, was dependent on the EU agreeing that the government guarantees were not anti-competitive.

The news means the Government can press ahead with a whole wave of new reactors, such as Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Anglesey in Wales, to bridge the country’s yawning energy gap, which will only widen over the next decade as existing nuclear plants reach the end of their lives. 

Building nuclear plants is hugely expensive, so EDF would only plunge in with billions of pounds if shareholders were guaranteed a fairly risk-free return. The government guarantee takes the form of a minimum price that would always be paid for electricity generated at Hinkley C, regardless of whether the market price fell below this threshold.

Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said yesterday: “This is an important next step on the road to Britain’s first new nuclear power station in a generation. While there is much work still to do before a final contract can be signed, the announcement is a boost to our efforts to ensure Britain has secure, affordable low-carbon electricity in the 2020s.”

Anti-nuclear campaigners, who have concerns about a possible nuclear disaster and about storage of radioactive waste, believed these were weaknesses in the Government’s case for nuclear, as it constitutes state aid that would have been better spent on developing other sources of renewable power, such as wind farms.

However, there remains one major hurdle at the EU level. The Austrian Government, which thinks nuclear development is dangerous for Europe, has vowed to press ahead with a legal challenge to block Hinkley Point’s latest reactor.

The British Government has been concerned about Austria’s likely response since the deal was finally agreed with EDF last year. However, concerns that Germany – which has turned against nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster – would also formally challenge Hinkley C have not materialised.

Gary Smith, the GMB union’s national officer for energy, told The Independent: “Our view is that Austria’s legal challenge is anti-nuclear rhetoric that won’t stop this development. It’s not really even an anti-subsidy complaint, it’s anti-nuclear – if you look at Austria’s renewable energy projects they’re full of subsidies.”

The decision was welcomed by Britain’s business community. John Cridland, the CBI director-general, said: “Hinkley should set the ball rolling for the UK’s nuclear new build programme, putting us on the right path to achieving a secure and sustainable energy mix.

“It represents a real opportunity for growth, with the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs for people – not just in the local community, but up and down the whole country.”

However, Andrea Carta, Greenpeace’s EU legal adviser, said: “This is a world-record sellout to the nuclear industry at the expense of taxpayers and the environment.”

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