PARIS (Reuters) - French power utility EDF on Monday stuck to its plans to build a nuclear reactor complex at Hinkley Point in southern England, saying Britain’s referendum vote to quit the European Union was no barrier to the plan.
The 18 billion pound ($24 billion) Hinkley Point project and its implications for the country’s main state power company has divided opinion in France at a time when it finances are severely stretched already by its absorption of loss-making nuclear plant builder Areva.
EDF Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy and the government see the project as crucial to the future of the group, and of France itself, in the multi-billion dollar world of nuclear power project construction.
But unions fear the investment is too risky, and could bring the company down. France’s top audit body the Cour des Comptes has also expressed reservations about it, and in March this year, the company’s then finance director Thomas Piquemal quit to draw attention to his concerns.
Last month’s Brexit vote has revived the controversy given the site of the project.
The company made Monday’s statement backing its plans to mark the end of a non-binding process of consultation with its works council of employee representatives, a process required under French law before a company can undertake a major project.
It said the board could now move on to a Final Investment Decision (FID) which, if positive, could set the project in motion.
“At the July 4 session (of the works council) EDF provided information on the consequences of the British vote on June 23 for the Hinkley Point C project,” EDF said in a statement.
“Backed by the studies already provided to the representatives of the workforce, EDF considers that this vote in no way changes the fundamentals of the project, nor does it alter the desire of those involved to take part in it,” the statement said.
EDF declared the works council scrutiny at an end because the period set aside for it had expired. However, several of the trade unions represented on it said as the they were unable to give a view one way or the other.
The works council last month launched legal action to try to force state-controlled EDF to release documents relating the project, including all the contracts it has signed with the British government and its co-investor, Chinese utility CGN.
The case will he heard by a Paris court on Sept. 22.
Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has said he expects to see an FID in September. ($1 = 0.7541 pounds)
Reporting by Bate Felix; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Louise Heavens/Keith Weir