The boss of EDF in the UK says he is ‘confident’ a new nuclear power station will be built at Hinkley Point, despite the government delaying its decision.
In an open letter to staff, Vincent de Rivaz said he regretted the uncertainty for employees, the local community and suppliers to the £18bn Somerset site.
But he said he understood why the new UK cabinet needed a ‘little time’.
The government said it was ‘only right’ to review such a significant deal and it would decide by the autumn.
French energy group EDF approved funding for Hinkley Point C at a board meeting on Thursday and contracts were due to be signed by all the parties involved the following day.
But in a surprise announcement, business secretary Greg Clark issued a brief statement saying ministers would take until the early autumn to ‘consider carefully all the component parts’ of the project.
Mr de Rivaz, who held a meeting with Mr Clark on Friday, says in his letter: ‘The new prime minister has been in post for just 16 days. Her full cabinet has been in post even fewer.
‘We can understand their need to take a little time. We fully respect the prime minister’s method.’
Mr de Rivaz, who is chief executive of EDF Energy plc, added: ‘The very good news is that we are ready.
‘The board’s decision means that when the government is ready to go ahead, we are ready too.’
Mr de Rivaz says Hinkley Point C will ‘deliver high-quality jobs for people of diverse backgrounds in Somerset and in all the regions of the country’ and ‘is consistent with Theresa May’s vision’.
He added: ‘My message today is one of continuity and confidence.
‘The EDF board’s decision is a huge achievement and one we should be proud of. Our journey is a long one and there is a further stage.’
Chinese investors ‘frustrated’
Jean-Bernard Levy, EDF Group chief executive, has also said he remains confident the project will go ahead.
But the delayed decision was described as ‘bewildering and bonkers’ by the GMB union national secretary for energy Justin Bowden, who fears it could jeopardise 25,000 jobs.
Mace, which was appointed by EDF to oversee the contract management at the site and provide project and programme management services, said the decision ‘sends completely the wrong signal to investors and the world’.
According to the BBC’s Newsnight programme, it was security concerns over Chinese ownership of British nuclear power stations that were the primary reason why the prime minister postponed the decision.
China General Nuclear Power Corporation is contributing a third of the money for the project.
A source close to CGN told the BBC everyone in the company was ‘bemused’ and ‘frustrated’ by the sudden nature of the government’s announcement and it had been given no real insight into the reason for the delay.
Hinkley Point C is expected to provide 7% of the UK’s total electricity requirement.
In 2013, the UK committed to pay a price more than twice the market level for the power generated by the plant over 35 years.
Critics of the plan have warned of environmental damage and potential escalating costs.
Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said: ‘Theresa May now has a chance to stop this radioactive white elephant in its tracks…
‘The UK needs to invest in safe, reliable renewable power.’
Hinkley Point timeline
Jan 2006 – Government proposes nuclear as part of future energy mix
Mar 2013 – Construction of Hinkley Point approved
Oct 2013 – UK government agrees £92.50 per megawatt-hour will be paid for electricity produced at the Somerset site – around double the market rate
Oct 2015 – EDF signs investment agreement with China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN)
July 2016 – EDF board approves final investment decision, but the UK government postpones final decision on the project until autumn