UPDATE 1-EDF reduces workforce at UK's Hinkley Point C nuclear power project

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LONDON, March 24 (Reuters) - EDF Energy is reducing the workforce at its Hinkley Point C nuclear plant project in Britain by more than half in the coming days because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The number of workers at the site in Somerset would be reduced to about 2,000, the company said, adding that the remaining skilled workers will focus on critical areas and work in shifts with extra transport and staggered breaks to minimise contact.

EDF Energy’s website states that there are normally 4,500 workers on site.

The reduction will allow easier social distancing in operational areas and sites such as canteens, an EDF statement said.

EDF Energy said it had already implemented steps such as home working for those who can, temperature checks for people at the site, extra cleaning and changes to movement patterns.

“Keeping this capability intact is essential for a project of critical national importance and an industry which plays a key role in helping the UK reach net zero (greenhouse gas emissions),” the company said.

The 3.2 gigawatt plant, which EDF is building with China General Nuclear Power Corp, was expected to begin generation at the end of 2025. No change to that timeline has been disclosed.

Britain needs to invest in new capacity to replace its ageing coal and nuclear plants, which are due to close in the 2020s.

In what will be the first new nuclear plant in more than 20 years, Hinkley C is expected to provide about 7% of the country’s electricity.

The project has suffered repeated delays and costs have risen, with the last estimate at up to 22.5 billion pounds ($26.4 billion). ($1 = 0.8523 pounds)

Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Edmund Blair and David Goodman