It's now the middle of 2017 and still, after 12 years of trying to build the French European Pressurised Reactor, there is still no model in operation. Even in China, which has, according to some of its domestic critics, let us say a more relaxed attitude to safety requirements compared to western agencies, the EPR at Taishan is still not generating electricity.
It was 16 months ago that the constructors announced that 'cold start' tests had been successful and that the whole of the plant (including two sets) would be fully functional this year (2017). Now they say that this will not happen, although one set 'will' be running sometime in the second half of this year. But then the plant, which begun construction in 2009, was supposed to be finished in 2013.
This failure does present the question of how it is that other nuclear plant built in China have not been subject to this much delay. How can we explain this? The obvious reason is that the EPR is a turkey that is widely regarded as bordering on, if not actually, 'unconstructable'. The difference with other nuclear plant built in China may simply be that the EPR was designed to suit western safety standards. It's an easy guess to say what this means for Chinese plans to build nuclear power plant in the UK!
In France construction at the EPR at Flamanville began in 2007 and completion by 2019 seems possible but uncertain. The other EPR at Olkiluoto started in 2005 and is about, so they say. to undergo 'cold tests'. On the basis of what has happened in Taishan this doesn't mean that it is about the generate electricity, though.
Of course none of this would be happening unless the French state was shovelling, in stages, numerous billions of euros into the different projects, including, it seems, Hinkley C. The EPR would have been abandoned withoiut these massive payments from the French state. Even many workers and leaders of EDF have marvelled at the paradox of the French Government pouring several billion euros into financing building power stations in other countries, especially the UK with Hinkley C
Of course some day this has to end, and EDF, which has mounting financial problems from various angles, will be restructured, maybe privatised. EDF's own, ageing French nuclear fleet is in deep trouble, and vague Government plans to increase electricity prices to shore them up may be the straw that break's the camel's back of French public tolerance of EDF. Nuclear power stations last 60 years, nuclear supporters will say. Well, only if you carry on paying a lot of money to refurbish them.
Some have said that EDF will get a lot of money when it starts up the Hinkley C project, whenever that is completed - the projected start date of 2026 can be regarded with some scepticism in view of the history of building EPR plant - but by then so much money will have been spent that for so long a period on the EPRs that this could not possibly justify what has been done.
British advocates of the Hinkley C say that the British Government is effectively indemnified by the contract with EDF to build the plant with EDF taking the risk. But that of course assumes that EDF will continue to exist as a company over the next decade. If it does not, and Hinkley C is still half built, we'll see how much that contract and all the lawyers fees that took to draw it up is worth. And the British consumer may be asked to come up with even more money than the £92.50 at 2012 prices for 35 years we are committed to pay at the moment.
What is happening in the USA with the Westinghouse designed AP1000 reactors in Georgia and South Carolina is a bad omen. There there are worries that with Westinghouse's bankruptcy the already increased cost of completing the power plant will balloon, and that electricity consumers will be asked to fork out more and more dollars for projects that never seem to get completed (see http://www.myajc.com/business/kempner-radioactive-question-looms-over-georgia-nuclear-mess-vogtle/LO9kYtkyPgtRfer2SpU8rL/ and http://www.utilitydive.com/news/westinghouse-bankruptcy-could-grind-us-nuclear-sector-to-a-halt/440153/)
It should be remembered that nuclear power is and always has been governed by politics, not commercial considerations. The spectacle of a half-built nuclear power plant (originally began by the nationalised CEGB) having to be re-financed afflicted the last nuclear power plant to be competed in the UK - Sizewell B. Privatisation, in 1990 meant that even though the plant was half-built, it still wasn't profitable under standard commercial criteria for privatised interests to complete it. This experience was wished away among a smokescreen of talk of decommissioning costs, which although real, were besides the point that it was the construction cost that stopped it being completed - until the electricity consumer was given a hefty bill.
Will this happen again and will more British as well as French consumers and taxpayers money be ploughed in to Hinkley C than is already slated? We will have to wait several years for the answer to this question. Meanwhile tremendous amounts of money that could be spent on real green energy that would be working and saving energy and pollution will be poured down a big black and ever deepening hole.