Plans to build Hinkley Point C near Burnham-On-Sea have this week been given another setback after reports that engineers may have falsified vital safety tests.
The Times newspaper reports that the revelation has “plunged the French nuclear industry into a new crisis” amid fears that dozens of reactors in France and possibly the UK could be dangerous.
It claims that a French state-owned factory – the Areva plant in Le Creusot, Burgundy – which has manufactured key components used in more than half of France’s 58 nuclear reactors, may have falsified safety reports on some of those components.
Unverified components may also have been installed by EDF Energy at some of the 15 reactors it owns in Britain, says the newspaper.
Britain’s nuclear safety regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), says it is seeking answers about the claims from EDF.
But Roy Pumfrey, spokesperson for the Stop Hinkley campaign group, said this week: “What little credibility France’s nuclear sector had left has now completely evaporated.”
“Surely now an end to Hinkley Point C is inevitable. If the Government doesn’t call a halt to this soon we will become the laughing stock of Europe.”
He added: “At the stroke of a pen, David Cameron could launch projects sufficient to save or generate the same amount of electricity as Hinkley Point C which are capable of delivering long before 2025. And studies have shown that scrapping Hinkley Point and building renewable power instead could save the UK tens of billions of pounds.”
Hinkley Point C was originally expected to be generating power “in time to cook Christmas dinner in 2017.”
A reactor under construction, Flamanville in France, is currently six years late and around €7.2bn over budget. And another reactor under construction, which is the same design, at Olkiluoto in Finland is expected to be almost ten years late and €5.5bn over budget.
Meanwhile, Thomas Piquemal, EDF’s former chief financial officer, told France’s parliament on Wednesday that he had wanted to delay a final investment decision on building Hinkley Point C by at least three years. He said the weight of the project on EDF’s balance sheet would be significant and EDF cannot afford a credit rating downgrade.
A final investment decision on whether to proced with Hinkley C is currently expected to be taken by EDF in September.