Monday, 16 February 2015

Why everybody is really pleased by Austrian challenge to Hinkley C

There's a lot of shaking of pantomine plastic swords by the British Government at the Austrian Government for launching a legal challenge to the Hinkley C 'state aid' consent made last November by the European Commission. In reality many people in British Government, the French Government and even quite a few in the nuclear industry will be quite pleased to have an excuse for the project's failure - and that they can perpetuate another myth about nuclear power - that it was the Austrian's fault that Britain's hopelessly irrational nuclear construction programme is not going ahead.

The reality is that the Hinkley C project was already falling apart at the seams. The British Government has only agreed - so far - to give partial underwriting of the construction costs. Given the near certainty of cost overruns arising in the light of the problems with the other EPRs being built in Finland, France and China, the Chinese investors have got worried that they will be exposed to a lot of cost overruns and have demanded that somebody carry the can rather than them. Ultimately it has either to be the British Government or the French Government who own EDF and AREVA who have to pay for what are likely to be very large losses. AREVA are the constructors and they are already effectively a bankrupt state company for whom the French Government is very averse to carry on supporting even more liabilities.

The result is a stand-off, a stand-off that is only being resolved by the Austrian challenge which gets everybody out of a hole. Other EU states are prevented (by the challenge) from thinking about other ruinous nuclear projects, and the British can blame the Austrians. The UK Government has made some token noises about the Austrian action, and the French Government has said very little about this.

I am also quite happy because on current form I am going to win my  £100 bet, placed two years ago, with Martin Alder at a Conference in Birmingham, that construction of Hinkley C would not happen. Meanwhile Martin is quite happy because he is pleased that the UK is avoiding such a terrible deal and some money might be available in the future to support renewable energy.

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