A final decision on building the Hinkley Point nuclear plant could be taken in September, French economy minister Emmanuel Macron has said, in comments that cast fresh doubt over the likelihood of the plant starting up in 2025 as planned.
Mr Macron issued the latest delayed timescale after Friday’s announcement that a financial bailout for developer EDF had been agreed with the French state, its majority shareholder, but that the company would now embark on a 60-day consultation with unions hostile to the project.
While the consultation had implied a delay until at least late June, Mr Macron told the Journal du Dimanche: “The final investment decision could be confirmed next September.”
It is understood the consultation with unions has not yet begun.
A September decision would be almost a year after EDF announced to much fanfare that it had concluded a deal with Chinese investors to fund the plant and expected to start construction within weeks.
At the time of that announcement, last October, the company said the plant would start generating in 2025.
Although some preparatory work for Hinkley is ongoing at the Somerset site, is it understood further works would now have been getting underway under the schedule envisaged for first power in 2025.
Last month EDF issued a statement insisting it was still on track for 2025 start-up. It offered no further comment on timing on Sunday.
In his newspaper interview Mr Macron insisted that Hinkley would proceed, saying the project was “necessary for EDF’s presence in Great Britain” and to promote the EPR technology ahead of its rivals.
He rejected suggestions the project should be delayed, saying this would require the renegotiation of all contracts for the project. He added: “The British cannot wait, because otherwise they will choose our competitors.”
MPs on the commons energy and climate change select committee have already vowed to recall EDF Energy chief executive Vincent de Rivaz to explain any delay to a decision beyond mid-May, the timescale he indicated when giving evidence last month.
Angus MacNeil MP, the committee chairman, said: “All we see from EDF is them kicking the can down the road. According to some of the experts, by the 2030s between storage and renewables there will be no need for nuclear anyway, so if EDF kick the can far enough down the road they’ll have maybe served a purpose.”
He said he personally doubted whether Hinkley would ever get built. “It’s always two-to-six months away. It’s jam tomorrow with EDF.”
In a statement on Friday, EDF said the “significant recapitalisation” it had agreed – which will see the French state put in €3bn as part of a €4bn rights issue – would make it possible to proceed with Hinkley Point.
It said that the non-binding statutory consultation would be concluded “this summer”.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The Final Investment Decision is a commercial matter for EDF. However, the British Government and EDF are both clear that Hinkley will go ahead.”