By Paul Brown: The edifice already heading for the status of the largest and most expensive construction project in the world, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the UK, is dragging its builder, the French giant EDF, into ever-deeper debt: the company’s flagship reactor is facing still more delay.
Although EDF is a vast company, owning 58 reactors in France alone, and is 85% owned by the French state, it owes around €60 billion ($67bn), a debt expected to increase by €3 billion ($3.35bn) a year.
This has led some city analysts, notably S&P Global, to downgrade the company’s prospects to “negative” − which is essentially a recommendation to shareholders to sell.
Apart from the problem that EDF’s fleet of reactors in France is operating well beyond their original design life and are in constant need of safety and maintenance upgrades, the company’s main problem is its flagship, the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR), which is getting into ever-greater difficulties.
In Europe there are four EPRs under construction: the two barely begun at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England; one in northern France at Flamanville in Normandy; and the original prototype in Finland, known as Olkiluoto 3 (OL3).
The extraordinary fact is that, although OL3 was due to start up in 2009, it is still incomplete, and its start date has just been put back again – until 2021.
In the midst of the Christmas festivities news was slipped out of another further substantial delay to this reactor, which is being built on Finland’s southwest coast.
Construction began nearly 15 years ago and was due to be completed within four years. But now the reactor is not expected to produce power until March 2021, instead of by the most recent estimate, September 2020.