UN slaps UK’s wrists over Hinkley Point

9th May 2016


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  • Generation ,
  • Nuclear ,
  • Planning ,
  • Energy

Author

Mary Raymer

The UK is in breach of a UN convention due to failings in the planning process for EDF's nuclear project in Somerset. Although embarrassing for the government, it is unlikely to impact the development.

The UK has contravened the UN convention on transboundary pollution by failing to consult other European countries about the development of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant.

It will now have to enter discussions about whether it should formally consult countries that could be affected if there were a nuclear disaster at the plant. However, the UN says it would only need to consult ‘if useful at the current stage of the project’. That means the rebuke is likely to be little more than an embarrassment for the government and the project’s developers, the French energy company EDF.

The decision was reached in April at a meeting of parties to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context. A report detailing the decision emerged this weekend.

The complaint is long-standing, going back to 2013 when EDF was awarded planning permission to build two nuclear reactors in Somerset. That year, An Taisce, the Irish national trust, took the energy and climate change department (Decc) to court for awarding consent without consulting the Irish people, which, it alleged, was required by the EU directive on environmental impact assessment. However, the High Court ruled that consultation was only required if pollution was ‘likely’. A nuclear accident did not fall into that category, it said.

Other bodies complained to the organising committee of the UN convention, which launched an investigation. Although authorities in France and Belgium told the committee they did not believe they should have been consulted, others, particularly the Austrians, insisted they should have been. The committee has agreed.

‘While the chance of a major accident…is very low, the likelihood of a significant adverse transboundary impact of such [an] accident] can be very high,’ its report says. ‘Therefore the committee believes on the basis of the principle of prevention…all parties potentially affected by an accident, however uncertain, [should be] notified.’

A Decc spokesperson said the government believed it had done everything properly and the ruling would have no impact on the project.

Nonetheless, the government will now have to consider changing the planning process for future nuclear projects.

Regardless of the UN report, the Hinkley Point project is mired by uncertainty with EDF repeatedly delaying making investor final decision. Last week, the company’s former chief financial officer, Thomas Piquemal, told a parliamentary committee in France that he had sought to delay an investment decision until 2018 as the project ‘would weigh too heavily on EDF’s balance sheet.’

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