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Nuclear deal paves way for 11km of subsea tunnels

2016-01-04

After more than five years in the planning and negotiation stage French energy supplier EDF says it is ready to announce its final investment decision on the £18 billion nuclear power station at Hinkley Point on the west coast of England “within weeks.”

The news comes as EDF finally signed a future pricing agreement with the UK Government yesterday (21 October), as well as a deal with its long-term Chinese nuclear partner CGN over funding. The announcements were made during this week’s high-level China state visit to London, with the relevant signatures witnessed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping

The series of deals that have been struck also include the £2 billion contract with Buoygues/Laing O’Rourke for the civils, originally awarded in 2012 but which is now in “final agreed form.” Its Tier 1 contractor for the underground works – the scope of which includes two cool water intake tunnels plus a shared outfall tunnel – is Costain.

All the tunnels are designed to be excavated by TBM. An underground water-cooling pumping station will also be constructed.

Costain Chief Executive Andrew Wylie said yesterday: “Costain will design and construct three marine tunnels, around 11km in total length and each one approximately 7m in diameter, to take in cooling water from the Severn Estuary for the nuclear reactor before it is cleansed, recycled and returned.”

EDF said in a statement: “Conditions to allow the Hinkley Point C project to go ahead are in place. These are the signing of the Strategic Investment Agreement, all the agreements between EDF and the UK Government being in a final agreed form, as are the contracts with the key suppliers. Under the Strategic Investment Agreement, EDF’s share in Hinkley Point C will be 66.5% and CGN’s will be 33.5%. Without reducing this initial stake below 50%, EDF intends in due course to bring other investors into the project.”

The announcement also puts the underground construction industry on alert for future major contracts, because it includes agreement for a wider partnership for the joint development of more new nuclear power stations at Sizewell and Bradwell on the east coast.

EDF Chairman Jean-Bernard Lévy said: “Our ambitious nuclear projects are strongly supported by the governments of the UK, China and France and they will bring benefits to all three countries. I am confident that our experience and ability mean we will successfully deliver Hinkley Point C and subsequent projects. We are planning for a final investment decision within weeks so that we can move forward with construction.”

First operation of Hinkley Point C is expected in 2025, when it will meet approximately 7% of the country’s electricity needs. The investment in nuclear energy by the UK comes at a time when much of Europe is moving away from this form of energy production. However, the UK’s reliance on Russia for its power needs has prompted a complete revision of its energy security policy.