EDF to pour first Hinkley Point concrete in 2019, Brexit or not

PARIS (Reuters) - French utility EDF’s project to build two nuclear reactors in Hinkley Point, Britain should pour its first concrete in 2019 and a possible British exit from the European Union would not change the plan, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Steam rises at sunset from the cooling towers of the Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power station at Nogent-Sur-Seine, France, in this November 13, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

The 18 billion pound (23.26 billion euro) project was first announced in Oct. 2013 and EDF EDF.PA announced a partnership for it with Chinese utility CGN in Oct. 2015, but an investment decision has been delayed several times although EDF has said repeatedly a decision would come soon.

“We have the intention to proceed rapidly with the investment decision for Hinkley Point,” EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Levy told reporters.

He added that EDF had not yet finalised talks with its Chinese partners before the Chinese New Year break. “Today we estimate this final decision is very close,” he said.

Levy said it would take about three years, possibly a bit more, of study and work with sub-contractors before EDF will begin building the first definitive structures on the Hinkley Point C site, though the company will do terracing and other preparatory work between now and then.

“Definitive construction of what will be built on the site, what we call the first concrete, is on the horizon for 2019,” Levy said.

Asked whether a possible British exit from the European Union could change the utility’s plan to go ahead with Hinkley Point, Levy said “No, we do not think so”.

Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to reach a deal to reform the European Union at a summit of EU leaders this weekend, which he can put to voters in a referendum on EU membership that many analysts expect to be held in late June.

Levy also said EDF is looking at how best to finance Hinkley Point in light of low electricity prices.

He said that due to overcapacity in the European power market, not a single investment in new power generation projects could be based on current low power prices.

He said the only feasible power generation investments in Europe are state-subsidised projects with long-term government-guaranteed power sales prices, such as solar, wind, and biomass, as well as nuclear energy in Britain.

“This is a huge problem for Europe. The European Commission is aware of this and is looking into changing the EU power market design by end this year,” he said.

(1 euro = 0.7740 pounds)

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by Susan Thomas