Hinkley Point C nuclear project director quits after delays to deal

Plans for the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the UK appear to have suffered a setback after it emerged that the executive running the project for French firm EDF has left his post.

A. Christopher "Chris" Bakken III has taken up a new job in the US. News of his departure from EDF comes only days after widespread reports that the EDF board had delayed a vote on whether or not to proceed with the project, amid concerns over investment.

Bakken had been in a key role as energy nuclear new build and project director for Hinkley Point and his departure will come as a further blow to EDF following last week’s delayed vote.

John Sauven, director of Greenpeace, said: "Coming just days after the EDF board failed to agree a final go-ahead for Hinkley, this move is yet another symptom of the disquiet this project is causing within the company itself.

“The whole enterprise makes so little economic sense that EDF's own staff and many board members are concerned it will seriously damage the company. But it's UK consumers and taxpayers who should really be worried about having to pick up the tab for Hinkley if this project goes ahead."

In a statement sent to Solar Power Portal, EDF’s CEO Vincent de Rivaz downplayed the news: “The UK has an ambition for a low carbon generation mix, and for nuclear to play a key role. It has consistently demonstrated confidence in EDF and France in the delivery of this ambition. EDF will deliver.

“A few days ago our chairman Jean-Bernard Lévy said in public that the project was ready for a final investment decision to be taken very soon.

“The French minister for the economy reaffirmed very clearly the commitment of the French government to Hinkley Point C and its support for EDF

“I can tell you that I am absolutely confident that Hinkley Point C will be reaching a final investment decision soon.”

EDF said it already appointed Philippe Bordarier, chief nuclear officer in EDF Energy Generation, to replace Bakken as new HPC project director.

Although the government’s decision to press ahead with Hinkley Point C has attracted widespread criticism for the huge costs involved relative to renewables such as solar any delays to the project, which is not expected to be complete until after 2023 anyway, could put a significant dent in the UK’s ability to curb carbon emissions.

Analysis last week by Carbon Brief calculated that for every year of delayed operation to Hinkley Point C could add 8-10 million tonnes of CO2 to UK emissions, if replaced with gas-fired generation.

The Committee on Climate Change’s (the government’s climate advisory body) fifth carbon budget, published late last year and due to be legislated for by the government later in 2016, outlines how the UK can decarbonise its economy by 57% compared to 1990 levels between 2027 and 2032. Central to this is the reduction in carbon intensity of power generation to 100g/kWh, which would require 75% of power to be derived from nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and renewable sources.

The country’s government recently surprised the power sector by withdrawing a £1 billion fund to incentivise CCS technologies, and any subsequent delay or cancellation of Hinkley Point C’s delivery would therefore theoretically require renewable generators to make up for the shortfall.

Speaking to Solar Power Portal earlier today before news of Hinkley Point C’s latest setback surfaced, the Committee on Climate Change’s head of carbon budgets Mike Thompson said hitting that power target was important as it stood to unlock “about a third” of decarbonisation from the rest of the UK economy.

“You need low carbon power to do that, and that’s absolutely the focus for us. Of course if you have less of one option, you need more of another,” Thompson said.

Additional reporting by Liam Stoker and Tom Kenning.