EDF Energy has extended the generating lifespan of four of its nuclear power plants by up to seven years amid rumours that it is struggling to find the cash to pay for Hinkley Point C.
The French Energy firm reached a deal in October with China’s General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) to construct the UK’s first new nuclear power station since 1995.
The £18bn project will see CGN own a third of the facility after providing a third of funds for its construction, while EDF takes the remaining share.
However, new reports have suggested the company is struggling to raise the funds for the project, putting its future in doubt.
Greenpeace has said the funding delay for Hinkley Point means it is not certain that final go-ahead will be granted. The campaign group said the project faces "unprecedented opposition" from EDF's management and French unions over costs.
In September, the Unite union said the UK government's continued indecisiveness regarding the completion date of Hinkley Point could leave the UK facing power cuts.
Although the project was later confirmed, the new concerns over funding could lead to a delay that would result in the UK failing to generate as much power as it consumes.
These concerns are bolstered by the government’s announcement in November that it would close all the UK’s coal-fired power stations by 2025.
In an attempt to assuage these fears, EDF said it would extend the lifespans of existing nuclear power plants Heysham 1, in Lancashire, and Hartlepool for an extra five years. Both plants were due to be decommissioned in 2019.
Heysham 2 and Torness in Scotland will also have extensions of seven years to 2030.
EDF said the decision followed "extensive technical and safety reviews".
"Our continuing investment, our expertise and the professional relationship we have with the safety regulator means we can safely prolong the operating life of our nuclear power stations," said chief executive Vincent de Rivaz.
"Their excellent output shows that reliability is improving whilst their safety and environmental performance is higher than ever."
The four nuclear plants currently employ over 2,000 permanent staff and 1,000 contractors.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd has attempted to downplay the lifespan extensions.
“The extension of these four nuclear plants is part of our plan to deliver long-term energy security for our families and businesses,” she said.
“Taking decisions today for the good of tomorrow and tackling the legacy of under-investment so that they have secure, affordable and clean energy supplies they can rely on in the years ahead.”
The industrial trade union GMB said it "welcomed the extension to provide more reliable base load electricity capacity" while Hinkley Point C is brought on stream.
The GMB General Secretary, Paul Kenny, said: "It is inconceivable that the Hinkley Point C site should become the most expensive landscaped gardens in the UK if work is stopped and the project does not go ahead.
“If the plan to finance the building of this station by the French and Chinese governments is no longer viable then the UK government has total responsibility to the people of this country to build the power stations needed to supply our electricity needs.
“The supply chain is in place and the labour force is coming on stream to construct this station essential to keep the lights on in the UK.
“The UK government cannot outsource the building of our power stations to foreign governments. It was UK engineers and workers that built the first generation of nuclear power stations and they can build the new generation needed for low carbon reliable base load electricity."
Rumours of EDF’s difficulties in finding funding for Hinkley Point have gained some credence after it admitted today that it lost almost 300,000 customer accounts last year as the business faced "extremely challenging market conditions".
The company said its underlying operating profit slipped 15 per cent to £664m in 2015, which it attributes to ongoing investment and reflects the loss of 291,000 accounts over the last 12 months as customers switched for cheaper deals.