Socialist Worker

Plans for new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point head towards meltdown

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2501

The existing nuclear power station at Hinkley Point

The existing nuclear power station at Hinkley Point


An anonymous letter from managers at French energy firm EDF brought the Tories’ plans for a new nuclear plant even further into question last week.

EDF is supposed to be building the plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset with a consortium of construction companies and funding from a Chinese state-controlled firm.

Both the Tories and the French Labour-type government are scrabbling to stop the complex arrangement unravelling.

The letter warned EDF’s directors that they could be liable if pushing ahead with the project damages the firm.

It adds to a growing rebellion in EDF against Hinkley Point after finance director Thomas Piquemal resigned last month over his concerns.

Three of the main unions at EDF have opposed the plan, breaking with a history of industrial peace. One has even threatened to strike.

Meanwhile both the British and French governments insist they want Hinkley Point to go ahead. British trade unions are urging EDF to get on with it in the hope of creating construction jobs.

But EDF is financially stretched and building Hinkley Point could cripple it. Its ongoing project at Flamanville in France is six years behind schedule and £5.7 million over budget. There’s no reason to expect Hinkley Point to go more smoothly.

More importantly, EDF’s existing fleet of 58 nuclear plants is nearing the end of its life and needs decommissioning.

It began decommissioning the first at Brennilis in France in 1997 and still hasn’t finished today.

Nuclear power plants have huge hidden costs. Bosses and politicians talk in terms of construction and operating costs. But taking a plant apart and dealing with nuclear waste costs billions more.

Bosses

In Britain these costs fall on the state in an invisible subsidy to private bosses. In France, EDF—a majority state-owned firm—has its own decommissioning fund. But it has only £18 billion.

That’s less than half its own estimate of the total cost of decommssioning, and £10 billion less than Germany’s nuclear sector that’s three times smaller.

Even without taking on new plants, EDF is looking at a financial black hole. France’s reliance on nuclear power means it faces the prospect of a state-controlled firm collapsing at a time when the economy is already fragile.

Tory energy secretary Amber Rudd has already admitted that cancelling the project wouldn’t really mean the “lights going out”.

Claims that a nuclear plant will help address climate change are lies. They ignore the deadly environmental effects of nuclear waste, never mind accidents.

Building nuclear plants, transporting their fuel and disposing of their by-products also generates huge emissions.

Instead of egging EDF on, unions should see its woes as another reason to come out against nuclear power.


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