EDF have handed a £99m construction deal which includes design, supply and installation of transmission facilities to Swiss-based firm ABB. The overall project is expected to cost a total of £18bn.

ABB will be responsible for the construction of the substations that will feed 3,200 MW of power to the grid, the installation of six Megavolt transformers, and transmission feeds to transfer power from the plant to the grid.

The deal takes the value of Hinkley contracts let by client EDF so far to £9bn.

Major deals to date include the £2bn civils contract for BYLOR, a joint venture between Bouygues TP and Laing O’Rourke, and the £208m earthworks deal won by a Kier and Bam Nuttall joint venture.

First concrete at the plant was poured in March this year as part of the construction of 7 km of gallery tunnels that carry the plant’s cables and pipes.

However, last week it was revealed that parts of these tunnels had to be demolished and replaced after issues were found with the concrete that had been laid.

Commenting on the infrastructure deal, Hinkley Point C managing director Stuart Crooks said “This major contract marks another significant step forward for the project.

“Hinkley Point C is bringing together companies and expertise from the UK, France and the world. Construction is fully under way and we remain firmly focused on what we need to deliver in the year ahead and beyond.”

From the beginning, Hinkley has been marred in controversy. According to leading protest group Stop Hinkley discharges from the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear Power station could cause around 200 deaths across the globe over its 60-year lifetime.

The radioactivity of spent fuel from Hinkley Point C would amount to around 80% of the radioactivity of waste already produced in the UK.

Also, with the delivery cost being so high, questions have been raised regarding the true value of Hinkley for Britain. Studies suggest that energy efficient improvements could reduce the energy consumed in UK households each year the equivalent to the output of six nuclear power stations the size of Hinkley Point C.

Construction workers employed at Hinkley Point have overwhelmingly rejected a pay offer in the longstanding dispute over pay and bonuses on the project.

The unions concerned, Unite and the GMB, will now go ahead with notifying the companies concerned of their intention of holding an industrial action ballot and then progress to ballot members for strike action.

The workers overwhelmingly rejected the proposed pay increase, with over 95 per cent voting against the proposals in a consultative ballot. Members were told that the rejected offer was the best that could be achieved “through negotiations”.

The dispute, which has been ongoing since the spring, concerns the pay of workers engaged on civil engineering contracts at Hinkley Point which is the largest construction project in Europe. There are already over a 1,000 workers employed on these contracts at Hinkley Point.

Negotiations on the pay offer have involved the client EDF and the main contractor BYLOR (the principal contractor Laing O’Rourke and Bouygues TP) as well as the unions.

A ballot for strike action was called off in June after an interim agreement on bonus payments was agreed. The three month agreement was extended into September in the hope that a permanent deal could be made.

One of the principal issues is that the pay rates for workers on civil engineering contracts are significantly below the rates of workers covered by the mechanical and engineering (M&E) contract.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said “Members have made their views clear; the unions warned the amount of money being offered was not sufficient and this has proved to be the case.

“The client and contractors need to understand that this is a high profile, complex project, built in a tightly controlled secure zone, which is being built in an isolated part of the UK. It cannot and will not be built on the cheap.

“For too long the construction industry has treated workers on civil engineering projects as the poor relations and these attitudes are no longer acceptable. The employers have set the benchmark with the mechanical and engineering agreement they need to come forward with an offer that meets our members’ expectations.

“There is a window between now and the commencement of any industrial action to still resolve this dispute, provided the client and the contractors come back with an improved offer. The unions are fully prepared to return to the negotiating table if an improved offer is put forward.”

Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer for construction, said “The ballot result is a clear indication that the national officers of both GMB and Unite have to get back round the table with EDF as matter of urgency.

“We will be seeking meetings with EDF as soon as possible to solve this situation on behalf of our members.”

Constructive discussions between employers at Hinkley Point C and Unite the union have resulted in an interim agreement over the payment of bonuses during the construction of the power station.

All parties have agreed to take part in a collective differences panel that will seek to identify an agreeable long-term settlement of the bonus issue.
As part of the agreement, interim bonus payments will apply until the end of August 2017 and will be linked to safe and collaborative working on site. The total bonus to be paid on this basis is as follows: working supervisor and craft grades £4 an hour, skilled worker grades £3 per hour and general workers £2 an hour.

The interim payments were agreed by representatives of EDF Energy (the client), BYLOR (the Tier 1 contractor comprising Laing O’Rourke and Bouygues TP), the Kier-Bam joint venture (who are undertaking the enabling works) and Unite the union.

As part of the agreement, the previously approved Civil Engineering Sector Agreement (CESA) for the project, which governs pay and conditions, will be fully implemented with effect from 1 June 2017, including the interim bonus arrangements.

The collective differences panel, which will consist of a senior Unite full time official and a senior EDF Energy executive, will thoroughly examine the matter of bonuses.

The panel will seek to identify appropriate permanent bonus arrangements that are agreeable to all parties and is scheduled to deliver its recommendations on productivity/milestones bonus payments by August.

As part of the agreement, no industrial action will be considered while these interim arrangements are in place or until the collective differences procedure has been exhausted.

Nigel Cann, EDF Energy’s Programme and Construction Delivery Director for Hinkley Point C, said “We are proud about the ‘best in class’ nature of the overall package for the Hinkley Point C civil workforce.

“We have created great facilities, an opportunity to develop and a very competitive reward structure.

“We are pleased that these interim arrangements allow constructive dialogue to continue to finalise this important agreement.

“Unite the Union has been a constructive partner in the discussions to date and I look forward to this continuing throughout the construction of the Hinkley Point C power station.”

Unite acting national officer for construction Jerry Swain, said: “I am pleased that following consultation with our stewards and members that we along with the various parties have been able to agree a clear path forward and that the prospect of industrial action, which is always a last resort, can be taken off the agenda in order to allow the ‘Differences Panel’ to deliberate.

“The work undertaken by EDF Energy in ensuring that all parties signed up to the interim agreement has been crucial in providing a breathing space and creating the opportunity for a long-term solution being agreed to finally resolve this matter.”

Prime Minister Theresa May will use her first regional Cabinet meeting this morning (23 January) to launch proposals for a modern Industrial Strategy to build on Britain’s strengths and tackle its underlying weaknesses to secure a future as a competitive, global nation.

As part of this strategy, May intends to invest time and money on improving UK competitiveness and skills in the nuclear power industry.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The modern Industrial Strategy will back Britain for the long-term: creating the conditions where successful businesses can emerge and grow, and backing them to invest in the long-term future of our country.”

“It will be underpinned by a new approach to government, not just stepping back but stepping up to a new, active role that backs business and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success.”

What, no renewables?

This news will undoubtedly come as a disappointment to the many Brits opposed to nuclear power within the UK today. A string of costly issues regarding the delivery of Hinkley Point C and overwhelming national support for renewables bring the very need for nuclear power in Britain into repute.

Figures released last year confirmed that 25% of the UK’s electricity was generated from renewables in 2015 – an increase of 29% on 2014. Nearly half of this (48%) came from wind power alone. 1 in 8 units of electricity generated in the UK came from wind.

In comparison, coal generated 22% of the country’s electricity – down from 30% in 2014.

In a survey by Harris Interactive of more than 2000 UK respondents found that only ‘one in four people (24%) considered nuclear power to offer the greatest potential.’ This was further proved when a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) discovered that new nuclear power in the UK would be more expensive than in any other country in the world.

Interestingly, the Government’s own poll on the public’s views on energy, the ‘Public Attitudes Tracking Survey,’ showed that 76% of people support renewable energy and that 70% of people also said renewable projects provide economic benefits to the UK. Doesn’t it seems strange then to announce further backing of a controversial industry when public opinion and solid statistics are in fact tilted more in favour of renewables?

Investing in nuclear power is a costly and long term action. All eyes will be on Theresa May and her cabinet as she makes that decision – let’s hope she’s thought it through!

Following a comprehensive review of the Hinkley Point C project, and a revised agreement with EDF, the Government has decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.

However, ministers will impose a new legal framework for future foreign investment in Britain’s critical infrastructure, which will include nuclear energy and apply after Hinkley.

The agreement in principle with EDF means that the Government will be able to prevent the sale of EDF’s controlling stake prior to the completion of construction, without the prior notification and agreement of ministers. This agreement will be confirmed in an exchange of letters between the Government and EDF. Existing legal powers, and the new legal framework, will mean that the Government is able to intervene in the sale of EDF’s stake once Hinkley is operational.

According to the government website, Hinkley Point C will provide seven per cent of Britain’s electricity needs for sixty years. UK-based businesses will benefit from more than 60% of the £18 billion value of the project, and 26,000 jobs and apprenticeships will be created.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said “Having thoroughly reviewed the proposal for Hinkley Point C, we will introduce a series of measures to enhance security and will ensure Hinkley cannot change hands without the Government’s agreement. Consequently, we have decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.”

A project with little support

This news will undoubtedly come as a shock to the many people in support of the Stop Hinkley campaign, who announced yesterday that they would be joining Greenpeace at 11am on Thursday 15th September to hand in a petition containing over 300,000 names at No.10 Downing Street (at 100,000 signatures a petition can be debated in Parliament).

A recent public opinion poll commissioned by Greenpeace which showed that support amongst the general public for Hinkley Point C has fallen to a new low of only 25%, whilst nearly half (44%) oppose it.

Stop Hinkley spokesperson Sue Aubrey said: “Virtually all major national newspapers and commentators have been calling for Hinkley to be cancelled for months. This petition and recent opinion polls show that the public agrees with them and supports Stop Hinkley’s view that there is no widespread support for new nuclear, particularly at Hinkley Point. Consumers can tell that the project may be unconstructable, requires vast subsidies and would generate electricity too expensive to use.”

One argument for the building of Hinkley is job generation within the county of Somerset. However, calculations suggest that the 900 direct permanent jobs which could be created at Hinkley Point C would cost electricity consumers an extra £800,000 per job per year compared to jobs in renewables in terms of increased costs of electricity. Renewable energy is a far better job-creator than nuclear, and already employs three times more people, according to Dr Ian Fairlie writing on The Ecologist website.

A new plan regarding the future of Hinkley Point C is currently being considered following last month’s delay by Theresa May in approving the £18bn Hinkley Point project.

The government is currently considering a proposal to detach development of Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor from a previous agreement, whereby China is responsible for the delivery of the Essex-based power plant.

China became controversially involved in the project 12 months ago, offering to fund a third of the costs in a deal meant to ease financial pressure on French Energy firm EDF.

However, concerns were raised by Theresa May, who soon called for a project review shortly after becoming Prime Minister.

Putting the project in jeopardy

Experts suggest that any attempts to detract from the agreement whereby China build reactors in Britain risks endangering the whole deal; the primary reason for China’s involvement from their perspective was in order to showcase their nuclear technology in Europe. Otherwise, they would have little interest in being involved in such a project.

This news comes as another knock to overall confidence in the future of Hinkley Point C. Serious doubts plague the proposals regarding the financial and environmental cost of the project – it seems to be losing what little support it had in the first place. Last month, Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Allan Jeffery commented “Now even the financial press says Hinkley Point C has become a laughing stock.

“The cost keeps rising while the cost of renewables is falling rapidly, and the potential to make savings with energy efficiency is huge. We could replace Hinkley much more quickly and cheaply without the safety fears and without producing dangerous waste we don’t know what to do with.”

On the anniversary of the earthquake that launched the tsunami that took the lives, or resulted in missing persons of over 18,000 people in Japan and triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl at the Japanese nuclear power station in Fukushima, Rueters have published an update on the clean up operation:

The robots sent in to find highly radioactive fuel at Fukushima’s nuclear reactors have “died”: a subterranean “ice wall” around the crippled plant meant to stop groundwater from becoming contaminated has yet to be finished. And authorities still don’t how to dispose of highly radioactive water stored in an ever-mounting number of tanks around the site. – Reuters

A clean up is estimated to take another 30 years before it can be considered complete. In the meantime nearly 8,000 workers take on the daily task of decommissioning the site and fight an on ongoing battle to stop the nigh on million tons of poisonous radioactive water seeping into the Pacific ocean.

Many of the 150,000 citizens who were displaced from their homes due to risk of contamination are being told that 2017 should see a reduction in the levels of radiation that make a return to those homes acceptable. However there is a wary distrust of the available information regarding the radiation levels, since much of it is sketchy and conflicting.

In April this year it will be 30 years since reactor four at Chernobyl went into melt down, the £18 billion clean up is still on going and the exclusion zone remains highly radioactive.

Since June 1954 when the USSR’s Obninsk Power Plant became the first to generate electricity, there have only been two of the highest category 7 nuclear events i.e.described as a major accident impacting on people and the environment. However, there have been several near misses.

It has been suggested that both of these event 7’s (Chernobyl and Fukushima) were a result of old technology and aging construction. Reactor one at Chernobyl was commission in 1977 just 9 years before reactor four exploded.

We can only trust that lessons have been learned and Chernobyl and Fukushima will remain forever as just two unfortunate events, never to be repeated. If not, prospects do not look good for people and the environment – and clean nuclear energy runs the risk of becoming disastrously dirty.

How safe is nuclear? Buildingspecifier invites the readership to comment below: