in the back

Overpaying the pipers
Nuclear power , Issue 1621
flamanville.jpg
DELAYED REACTOR: Flamanville power station is among many EDF plants that have suffered delays and budget overruns
FROM the start of EDF's interminable development of two new nukes at Hinkley Point in Somerset, we were promised big efficiencies thanks to EDF's prior experience with the same design at Flamanville (France) and Olkiluoto (Finland). Yet every year EDF announces Hinkley will cost even more and will start operations even later.

If you've ever wondered why, here's an example recently uncovered by the Eye.

Flaw plans
Nukes incorporate miles of intricate pipework from multiple suppliers, each with their own 3D design model, needing to be consolidated into a single workable design of high integrity. When preliminary plans come through, there can be incompatibilities and overall design flaws that are fairly obvious to the fabrication contractors at the sharp end.

Surely they reject duff designs and wait for corrections to be issued? Er, no. That would cause delays and immediate budget increases. So instead contractors are browbeaten into getting on with pipework that in some cases will ultimately need to be replaced.

As they get paid by the metre of pipework fabricated to the design they've been given, they've no incentive to take responsibility for issues they spot at the outset. And when flaws finally come to light, rectification means more billable work for them!

Such is the pressure to maintain non-stop activity, and such is EDF's shamelessness at announcing yet further delays (it's had a lot of practice), this fatuous trial-and-error process euphemistically known as "execution design" rolls on year to year. There can be safety issues, too.

Excess charges
And that's just the pipework: the big cumulative effect across the whole project is obvious too. Endless delays at Hinkley are now wreaking havoc with ministers' electricity plans (Eye 1616), with only one saving grace: it's EDF that picks up the tab for budget overruns on the project itself.

For the next EDF nuke (Sizewell C), however, the government has cravenly allowed EDF off the hook for the inevitable budget overruns, which will be down to taxpayers (Eyes passim).

Given EDF's performance so far, the mind boggles at how the absence of budgetary discipline will affect Sizewell's timetable and eventual cost. We won't find out until we get the bill.

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To read all these stories in full, please buy issue 1621 of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 24th April 2024
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