Date: 07 Sep 2016, Science, Technology and Culture
Question setter: Mettletest Panel

Hinkley Point C

Will the UK Government give approval for the full Hinkley Point C nuclear power project, with 2 EPR nuclear reactor units, by 15th October 2016?


Response:


Answer: No
Confidence level: 53%
Mean confidence level (all requests): 47.00%

Justification:
The recent changes in cabinet have created a new climate for the grand infrastructure projects favoured by George Osbourne. Theresa May has given strong indications Hinkley is not one she wants to continue. There are a combination of factors that mitigate against proceeding. First, the negotiated price per Kwh is way above current rates. Secondly the technology for the EPR reactors is unproven and may cause delays and budget overruns. Thirdly, the French unions have expressed disapproval and could cause problems. Fourthly, there are questions about whether Chinese involvement is dangerous to Britain's security. Supporters of the scheme argue that the lights will go out without it because the UK will simply not be able to generate enough. May's statement from the G20 meeting that "our relations with China are about more than Hinkley Point" seems to presage an abandonment. She would certainly be lauded by a large lobby if she bins it and most are citing cost rather than security. It is still possible that she wilts at the prospect of French and Chinese wrath, or is even convinced that there is no alternative supply but the likely outcome is the end of the HPC project.

Outcome: Yes
Score: -53
Mean score (all respondents): -10.20

Expert opinion:


Answer: Yes

Selected Expert Answer from Derek Wyatt:
The Government for all the wrong reasons will give approval to Hinkley Point.

Put simply the cost of cancelling could probably bring down EDF - the French energy company which successfully bid for the over generous contract. Its debt are currently underwritten by the French Govt.

With Brexit ringing in her ears, the PM cannot afford to fall out with France (Calais et al). She also cannot upset the Chinese who are the main technology partner given the industrial size of their inward investment in the UK economy.

The right decision would be to cancel it. There are cheaper alternative sources which would benefit UKplc in the long term.

Answer: No

Selected Expert Answer from John Karslake:
The post-Brexit government of Theresa May seems keen to make a new start on many issues and the volume of disapproval for Hinkley is very high. The contract is a legacy from Osbourne. May never liked the Chinese involvement, for security reasons, but the perceived high cost should be the let-out. Unproven technology with electricity prices way above current rates looks ridiculous. It must be possible to mollify the Chinese with participation in other infrastructure schemes including smaller, modular nuclear plants. Intriguingly, it appears that Hinkley was not mentioned when May met Xi at the G20, but she said that "There is more to Britain’s relationship with China than the Hinkley Point nuclear deal". A good indication that she is happy to abandon it? Unless the government can be convinced that there is no substitute to keep the lights on, I think that Hinkley Point C is doomed. There is an outside chance of a re-negotiation on the basis of one EDF reactor only but even that is unlikely.


Outcome: Yes

Comment on outcome from Mettletest Panellist:
It appears that security and diplomacy were the overriding concerns for Theresa May. Once she had attached conditions that limited any change of ownership, particularly safeguards against China taking over the nuclear reactor, she allowed the project to go ahead.
The government has decided that HPC is needed despite ongoing concerns about the cost of its electricity output, nuclear waste disposal and the viability of the technology. It will create some 25,000 jobs and fuel demand for steel. Rolls Royce will be providing back-up generators too.