EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Levy at a press conference in Paris earlier this month

Delays and cost overruns deterring Hinkley investors

Investors are wary of joining the Hinkley Point nuclear plant project due to delays and cost overruns at reactors in France and Finland, EDF's chief executive said.

Tightened safety rules and technical problems have delayed EDF's new-generation of European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs), which were designed by Areva before the French utility took over its reactor arm and costs have ballooned way beyond initial estimates.

EDF is working on a cheaper and simpler upgrade to the design and plans to build two EPRs at Hinkley Point with two Chinese partners, but it has been unable to find other investors for the £16bn project.

"For third parties observing the announcements of delays and cost overruns for the EPRs under construction, it is difficult to commit," Jean-Bernard Levy told French financial daily Les Echos.

Levy said EDF plans to build two EPRs in Hinkley Point, two more in Sizewell and then a reactor based on Chinese technology, the Hualong, on the Bradwell site in eastern England. Building a Chinese reactor in Britain is part of the global partnership that EDF is developing with the Chinese, backed by British government support, Levy said.

This backs up comments from British finance minister George Osborne yesterday, suggesting that China could build and own a nuclear power plant in Britain in the future.

EDF's main partner for the project in western England is China General Nuclear Corp (CGN), which is also building two EPR reactors in China. "They still have confidence in the EPR, like us," said Levy.

Levy said EDF hopes to be able to order one or two units of an improved EPR reactor in France in five years that could replace existing reactors seven to eight years later, potentially indicating that EDF may not be able to extend the life of all its reactors and may have to replace some with new equipment.

EDF runs 58 ageing nuclear plants that generate about 75 per cent of France's power and which will have to be upgraded or replaced in coming years, with nuclear watchdog ASN expected to give a preliminary opinion about EDF's request to extend the lifespan of its reactors from 40 to 50 or 60 years by the end of the year.

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