Sizewell power plant’s future fears raised

SIZEWELL C is in 'real danger' of never being built after socialists swept to power in France, experts warned last night.

EDF, the owners of the Sizewell nuclear power plant hope to build the new station at site near Southwold.

Sources close to new President Francois Hollande believe once a full analysis of the economy has been conducted he will move to block state-owned EDF spending billions overseas.

Last night the energy firm reiterated its commitment to the site, but some believe the project is now in severe doubt.

Even before Mr Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy to become the first socialist leader in France since 1995, there were murmurings over the future of the new power station due to the rising costs of building.

Now experts think this, coupled with Mr Hollande's dislike of nuclear energy and his determination for French companies to invest in their home country, could see EDF halt new projects in the UK much like German-owned RWE and E.ON did.

The backlash against austerity packages in France – currently Europe's dominant force in producing nuclear power – could also end the British Government's ambitions for even more new power stations including re-opening Bradwell, in Essex.

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If it does go ahead EDF believe Sizewell C would create 25,000 jobs for the local area over its lifetime. The firm would have also been obliged to spend millions on the local area to minimise the impact and many hoped this money could be used to add a bypass around four villages on the A12 that have long suffered with traffic travelling to the site.

Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based nuclear energy consultant and former adviser to the French government, claims Sizewell C will never be built.

'It would be intelligent at this stage for the UK government to seriously consider other options,' he said. 'If I was advising the French government I would be asking whether it appeared sensible for a state-owned company to be committing billions to something overseas.

'Mr Hollande is currently waiting for an in-depth analysis of exactly where the French economy is but I doubt he is going to get a pleasant surprise. This may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

'I don't think Sizewell C will be built. The economics are clear. The company may still be saying they are committed to it but E.ON and other firms have said similar things before cancelling projects.'

And Antony Froggart, of the Chatham House international policy think-tank, agreed that circumstances appeared to be conspiring against EDF.

'The election has certainly added to the uncertainty and I don't think anyone would be that shocked now if EDF were to pull out – or be forced to pull out.'

A spokeswoman for EDF refused to comment on Mr Hollande's election but said the company was committed to their projects in the UK – so long as the right market framework was in place.

She said: 'We believe that new nuclear is vital as part of the energy mix to meet the UK's goals for climate change, security of supply and affordability. It can also play a key role in restoring growth, bringing billion of pounds of investment and thousands of jobs.

'We are progressing a strong and credible new nuclear project. We remain committed to delivering the first new nuclear plants in the UK for 20 years at Hinkley Point.'

EDF bosses will be listening to the Queen's Speech with added interest today in the hope that the Government may be willing to somehow subsidise nuclear new builds.

If a plan to fix energy pricing was to be passed in to British law it would allow EDF the ability to know exactly what the return on their investment would be. Many think this would reassure Francois Hollande about the long-term viability of Sizewell C.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, pictured, said she remains hopeful. 'EDF is a long-term investor in nuclear power both in the UK and France and I would be surprised if there was any sudden change.

'This does stress the importance of getting on with the Energy Bill this year as the development of Sizewell C is essential for the future of our energy supply and will bring jobs and investment to this part of Suffolk.'

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