EDF boss 'quits' energy giant over plans to build Hinkley Point UK nuclear power plant

Thomas Piquemal pulled the plug last week after the company refused to delay the project for three years

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The Independent Online

A senior executive of the French energy giant EDF has resigned because the company refused to postpone building of the Hinkley Point  power station in Somerset which is supposed to “keep the lights on”  in Britain in the next decade.

Thomas Piquemal, financial director of EDF, pulled the plug last week after the company refused to delay the project for three years until technological and financing problems were sorted out.

It is now expected that EDF, 85 per cent owned by the French state, will take its much delayed decision to push ahead with the £18bn project early next month. At their summit in Amiens last Thursday, the French President Francois Hollande and the Prime Minister, David Cameron restated their commitment to a project, which is supposed to generate seven per cent of the UK’s electricity by 2025.

EDF shares fell by 8 per cent at the opening of the Paris bourse on Monday when the company confirmed that Mr Piquemal had resigned last Thursday – the same day as the Franco-British summit. One of his assistants, Xavier Girre, has been appointed as his interim replacement.

An internal report to the EDF board warned last month that it would be impossible for technical reasons to complete the two “new generation” nuclear reactors at Hinkley within the nine year timetable. The report also suggested that the project could be financially disastrous for the struggling French company, despite a commitment by the UK government to pay double the market rate for Hinkley’s electricity.

Although China has agreed to invest Pounds 6.2bn in Hinkley Point, EDF has failed to find other backers leaving it responsible for two thirds of the cost. Problems with the building of similar high pressure water reactors in Finland and Normandy have led EDF unions and senior executives to recommed a three year delay – until a new genberation of technology become available.

Mr Piquemal is reported to have made a last ditch attempt to win a three years delay last week and resigned when the EDF chief executive Jean-Bernard Lévy, insisted on going ahead next month.

 Paris and London are reported to have applied intense pressure on EDF to stand by the project, despite doubts about the compay's own finances.

The British government would face huge embarrassment if Hinkley Point,  intended as the first of three new mega power stations, was abandoned or postponed. In October last year, China agreed, amid much fanfare in London and Beijing, to invest Euros 8bn (Pounds 6.2bn) in the project.

In September, the Chancellor George Osborne said Hinkley Point was a central part of the government’s strategy to “make sure the lights stay on”.

“The current generation of nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their life. That’s going to create a very big hole in our base electricity supply unless we do something about it,” he told a House of Lords committee.