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Will Sizewell C nuclear really go ahead? EDF’s €60bn debt, and €52bn costs for French nuclear build.

 When EDF board members joined a video call in late August to discuss a landmark UK nuclear project, they were instead treated to a stand-off between the utility’s outgoing boss and the French state. Rather than signing off the Sizewell C plant in Suffolk as Jean-Bernard Lévy had pushed for, the biggest French power producer’s controlling shareholder demanded more time to finish new audit reports and the meeting descended into acrimony, according to people familiar with the discussions.

“Some people didn’t understand what they were doing there and why there wasn’t going to be a decision on anything,” one of the people said. “It was messy.” The episode, one of several clashes at the company to have spilled into the open in recent months, will provide little comfort to Lévy’s successor, Luc Rémont, who is due to take over as chief executive and chair just as Paris executes a plan to buy out the 16 per cent of EDF it does not already own.

While the nationalisation clarifies the ownership structure, the company could still be subject to demands from the French state that have not always been in its immediate interest, including that it shield consumers from soaring energy prices. Big strategic questions on everything from Sizewell to renewable energy investments, meanwhile, still loom large.

Rémont, currently a senior executive at industrial conglomerate Schneider Electric, will need to solve
the group’s short-term problems while also preparing EDF to take on some of France’s biggest nuclear construction projects in two decades — a period when it has struggled to complete any on time or on budget.

The company’s electricity output is on course to reach all-time lows this year, after corrosion problems at the company’s nuclear plants added to maintenance stoppages and led to the outage at one point of more than half the French fleet of 56 reactors. That has strained supplies across Europe just as the region pivots away from Russian gas, while also turning France into a net power importer for the first time.

French officials have so far insisted that the Sizewell C plant in Britain will go ahead, adding that the state had commissioned extra audits simply to calculate the financial consequences of removing a Chinese state-backed company from the project.

But the government may eventually want to revisit some of its choices, bankers and union representatives close to EDF said, particularly as the group grapples with costly investments. By the end of this year, EDF’s
net debt is already forecast to swell to about €60bn, while its French construction programme alone could cost another €52bn.

 FT 5th Oct 2022


October 5, 2022 - Posted by | business and costs, France, UK

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