You had to have sharp elbows to get into Westminster’s Grimmond Room this morning.
The energy and climate change select committee looking into the future of UK nuclear and in particular the future, if there is one, of Hinkley Point C was the hottest ticket in town.
In the middle of the scrum of journalists, MPs and members of the public scrambling for seats were three people overseeing the ongoing £18bn Somerset project saga.
EDF’s Vincent De Rivaz and Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson sat upright readied for the grilling they were about to receive.
And to the left of them was Zhu Minhong, China General Nuclear’s (CGN) director of UK nuclear projects.
Mr Rivaz was up first with a scripted speech about the future of Hinkley Point C that we have heard a million times before.
SNP head of the select committee Angus MacNeil wasn’t impressed. After France’s economy minister said a final investment decision would be made by May, the no-nonsense MP from Stornoway wanted to confirm if this was indeed the case.
But a direct answer wasn’t forthcoming.
What ensued was an incredible tug-of-war between the MPs and Mr De Rivaz, with EDF’s chief talking, sometimes over the committee members, about “commitment and confidence” without giving a yes or no answer.
“If Hinkley was powered by the number of commitments and promises to the project we have heard it would be able to heat the whole country,” MP Matthew Pennycook remarked.
And he was right. I lost count after I’d heard the word “committed” a dozen times.
Mr Rivaz did, however, indicate that the committee should pay heed to the May deadline, with 15 May the new date for the diary.
He said EDF needs to find efficiencies in the business, move funds from EDF’s non-priority projects to Hinkley and satisfy the company’s stakeholders.
Given Mr Macron comments yesterday where he called the project a ”good industrial and financial investment for the long term”, one can assume the French government, which holds an 85 per cent stake in EDF, is largely satisfied.
The committee meeting also demonstrated that while Hinkley might be beset by problems, the pipeline of future nuclear projects looks strong.
Both Nugen’s Tom Samson and Horizon’s Alan Raymant claimed that the successes of their respective projects in Moorside and Wylfa were not reliant on Hinkley going ahead and they were confident of securing investment – Moorside by 2018 and Wylfa by 2019.
That’s not to mention China’s Bradwell site. Mr Zhu said that despite what was happening with its “partner of 30 years”, the firm was still on course for construction to start in 2023.
The last 24 hours have been significant for the UK’s nuclear new-build programme. A final investment decision on Hinkley looks finally set for May.
And that will start a wave of investment in a burgeoning new sector.
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