U.K. Says Nuclear Reactors Delayed by French, Chinese Investors

The outgoing U.K. energy minister said a 24.5 billion-pound ($37 billion) plan to build nuclear reactors in southwest England is being delayed by commercial issues involving the project’s main French and Chinese investors.

“The reason it’s dragging on isn’t to do with the U.K. government,” Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey said in an interview in his Kingston & Surbiton constituency in southwest London. “It’s commercial reasons. The French have got to get their Chinese backers.”

Electricite de France SA, which delayed a final decision on the project from December until after the May 7 U.K. election, has cut 400 contractor jobs at the Hinkley Point site. EDF and partner Areva SA are also grappling with findings by France’s atomic safety regulator of a “serious” fault on a reactor vessel under development in Normandy that is similar to the models planned for the U.K.

When the plan to build the U.K.’s first new atomic plant in two decades was unveiled in 2013 under Prime Minister David Cameron, EDF said it would own 45 percent to 50 percent of the project with reactor supplier Areva holding 10 percent. China General Nuclear Power Corp. and China National Nuclear Corp. will own 30 percent to 40 percent, leaving potential for additional investors.

A spokeswoman for EDF declined to comment. Spokespeople couldn’t be reached outside business hours at the Beijing offices of China National Nuclear Corp. or at China General Nuclear Power Corp. in Shenzhen.

Davey said Monday he “expects” the project to go ahead regardless of the makeup of the next government.

No Red Line

“I haven’t seen anyone saying it’s a red line,” he said. “The SNP haven’t made it a red line for their negotiations,” he said, referring to the Scottish National Party, which opposes nuclear power in Scotland.

With three days to go before the election, polls point to a hung Parliament, which would pave the way for parties like the SNP or Davey’s own Liberal Democrats to help form or influence a future government led by Cameron’s Conservatives or Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.

Miliband has backed building new nuclear power stations, while reserving the right to ensure any deal delivers value for money for consumers.

Finnish and French projects to develop the EPR model reactors remain mired in time and cost overruns. EDF and Areva have said they will carry out further tests to demonstrate the safety of the Normandy equipment after the manufacturing “anomalies” were uncovered. EDF is also developing two EPRs in China.

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