One of EDF’s directors who had previously voiced opposition to the company’s Hinkley Point nuclear project has resigned ahead of a board meeting during which the future of the project is expected to be decided.
Gerard Magnin is now the second major figure at EDF to have left amid disputes over the viability of the Hinkley project after Thomas Piquemal, who was the company’s chief financial officer, left in March this year.
Magnin joined EDF as a board member in 2014 on the recommendation of the French government, who own an 85% stake in the company, partly as a bid to increase the company’s investment in renewable energy.
His resignation comes as he feels the company’s strategy has moved too far from his initial aims, with the increased focus on Hinkley and nuclear power seemingly at odds with further focus on renewables.
Magnin reiterated the position of some other EDF executives and several union representatives, who see the Hinkley project as too much of a financial burden for the company to take on. Magnet himself describe the project as “very risky”.
EDF are currently running with a net debt surpassing £31 billion, and so the £18 billion cost of Hinkley – for which EDF themselves are responsible for around £12 billion with Chinese nuclear company CGN taking on the final third – will put significant strain on their books.
But financial issues aside, Magnon’s main issue was with the direction that EDF, and France as a whole, appear to be heading in by relying so wholly on nuclear power.
He said, in a resignation letter to EDF chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy: “As a board member proposed by the government shareholder, I no longer want to support a strategy that I do not agree with.”
He made reference to EDF and the French government’s acquisition of Areva, the company responsible for building the proposed reactor at Hinkley. EDF agreed to buy out the reactor building arm of Areva, Areva NP, for €2.5 billion, and the French government backed a €5 billion capital investment in order to save the troubled company from insolvency.
Mr Magnin said: “let’s hope that Hinkley Point will not drag EDF in the same abyss as Areva.”
At EDF’s board meeting today, it is expected that the group will make a final decision on the acquisition of Areva NP, as well as on the future of Hinkley.
Opinion is incredibly split on Hinkley, not just within EDF but among commentators and MPs alike across the continent.
Greenpeace’s director, John Sauven, warned that EDF’s past record in terms of building nuclear reactors on time does not convey confidence in this latest project.
He said: “Every time EDF has tried to build a reactor like Hinkley, it has failed. There isn’t a shred of evidence that Hinkley can be built on time or on budget, and if it hits the same problems as its predecessors, it can’t be relied on to keep the lights on in the UK.
“The UK government doesn’t have to sign the contract with the French and Chinese state-owned nuclear companies. We need to invest in reliable home-grown renewable energy like offshore wind which is powering other northern European countries more cheaply than Hinkley, even taking into account the backup cost when the wind doesn’t blow.”
However, others disagree, arguing that Hinkley will be necessary for securing domestic energy supply and that the cost that the British government has promised for the power produced is a necessary expense.
The Secretary of State for the newly formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, reiterated the UK government’s position on the project, saying: “New nuclear is an essential part of our plan for a secure, clean and affordable energy system that will power the economy throughout this century.”
And the Unite’s head of energy made similar assertions. Kevin Coyne said: “The cost of not doing so [building Hinkley] could result in the lights going out in Britain and the West Country missing out on the much-needed economic boost that this major infrastructure project would bring. Workers are shovel ready and raring to go – all they need is the green light from the EDF board.”