There has been a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point for almost 60 years. Over the years, reactors have been built and decommissioned – but the headland is now synonymous with nuclear power. Five miles north of Bridgwater is the headland of Hinkley Point. A popular location for birdwatching, the bay to which it adjoins has been declared a site of specific scientific interest. Since 1965, the headland has been home to a nuclear power station. The construction of the first plant, Hinkley Point A, began in 1957, before it was commissioned in 1965. This plant, consisting of two nuclear reactors, was operational until 2000, when it was shut down due to the cost of maintaining it. The plant was joined by Hinkley Point B in 1976, which is still operational under the French-owned company EDF Energy. Hinkley Point B currently provides 945 Megawatts to the national grid, employing approximately 535 full time EDF Energy employees, plus over 220 full time contract partners. A third plant has been under consideration for many years. EDF announced plans to build a new reactor at Hinkley Point in 2008, and bought additional land on which to construct the station in 2011.
Throughout 2013, EDF was in negotiation with the Department of Energy and Climate Change about the creation of a third plant on the headland. In particular, the company demanded a guaranteed price for the electricity produced. The site received planning consent in March of 2013, which was followed with the agreement over energy prices in October the same year.
However, in December 2013, an investigation was opened by the European Commission, to investigate whether the project will break EU regulations into state aid. Under EU law, it is legal to support a company with public money so long as it is on terms that would have been accepted under market conditions. Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia has reportedly said that, under the agreement, “the nuclear plant operator will ultimately receive a fixed level of revenues and will therefore not be exposed to market risks for the duration of the scheme.”
For now, the expansion of Hinkley Point is on hold while the European Commission considers the effect that the agreement between EDF Energy and the UK Government will have on the energy industry in the UK and abroad. However, it still appears likely that, somehow or other, Hinkley Point will become home to a new nuclear power station – and this will bring a large amount of change to the region.