But still no final investment decision has been made by EDF, and significant uncertainties remain, not least those created by financial troubles at EPR-supplier AREVA (which at one time was to have been a 10% shareholder in the project), legal challenges (by the government of Austria among others) to the European Commission’s approval of the state aid case for the project, the need to reach agreement with Chinese investors, and severe delays and cost overruns at existing EPR projects in Europe, Olkiluoto 3 and Flamanville.

The need to achieve clarity on Hinkley Point C was a recurring theme at the NIA’s Nuclear New Build 2015 conference, held in London, 30 June – 1 July. We are "waiting for the fog to lift over Hinkley Point C so we can see the way forward", said Tom Samson, CEO of NuGen, recently arrived from Abu Dhabi where he was COO of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is constructing Korean PWRs at Barakah.

NuGen, a joint venture of Toshiba and ENGIE (formerly GDF Suez), is planning to build the 3.4 GW Moorside plant, consisting of three Westinghouse AP1000 PWRs, on land adjacent to Sellafield in what Tom Samson described as the UK’s "nuclear heartland", a particularly attractive feature of this location for a nuclear plant developer.

The Moorside project has recently taken a significant step forward with the signing of a land contract for the site with the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, following a successful bid for an option on the land back in 2009. The signing marks the completion of studies confirming that the site is suitable for the three planned reactors, the first of which is targeted to come on line in 2024, and, interestingly, looks like being about the 17th unit in the AP1000 pipeline – certainly qualifying it as proven technology.

Noting that ENEC went from about 400 staff to 1700 during his three-and-a-half years in Abu Dhabi, Tom Samson told the NNB2015 audience that "you are going to see NuGen grow" as the company finalises the EPC structure for Moorside and "engages with government", which he expects will want to proceed "faster and cheaper." He also emphasised that more clarity would be needed to "build a path forward to attract equity."

A final investment decision for Moorside is anticipated in 2018. This seems to be a little ahead of the FID date of early 2019 being alked about by nuclear developer Horizon (purchased from E.ON/RWE in 2012 by BWR- supplier Hitachi), which is planning twin-ABWR stations (2 x 1380MW) at Wylfa Newydd and subsequently Oldbury B.

Speaking at NNB15, Alan Raymant of Horizon recalled that at a previous NIA New Build conference he had said that Horizon had expected to start construction in 2013. "Does that mean we’ve failed? No, not at all." These projects are "important to the fabric of society… and we have to get it right." Nuclear power currently accounts for about 20% of the UK’s electricity (predominantly from ageing AGRs), and "we have to replace that."

Horizon is also talking about growth, with the number of employees projected to rise from a little over 300 today to about 550 in 2019, while the forward priorities include completion of the UK ABWR Generic Design Assessment in 2017. One matter to be resolved is the definition of the source term for the ABWR (ie, the inventory of radionuclides in the plant to be assumed in safety and environmental assessments), but Horizon believes this to be more about how the safety case is made rather than a substantive safety concern per se. Another outstanding issue, recently identified by the regulator, is to do with delivery of a "suitable and sufficient" probabilistic safety analysis.

Developing nuclear new build projects is of course not for the fainthearted or short-term thinkers – as several speakers at NNB15 noted it is certainly more of a marathon than a sprint – and requires very deep pockets. Horizon has for example already spent about £80 million on its supply chain and last year conducted a programme of ground investigation at Wylfa that was the "largest in Europe", according to Alan Raymant.

But the mood among the 300 or so delegates at NNB15 seemed to be broadly positive, greatly encouraged by the apparently unequivocal support being given to nuclear power by the new government, which talked of "significant expansion" in its election manifesto.

Speaking at NNB15, new Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom reaffirmed this support: "There should be no doubt that this government is absolutely committed to nuclear power. We see new nuclear power stations as a vital part of the infrastructure investment needed in our electricity sector to ensure our future energy supply."

Supply chain for Hinkley Point C

While EDF may not have yet taken a final investment decision on Hinkley Point C it has proved no slouch in putting in place the potential supply chain.

Back in October 2013 EDF announced the four main preferred bidders for engineering and construction of Hinkley Point C: Bylor, JV of Bouygues and Laing O’Rourke – civils; Costain – marine work; Alstom – turbine generators; and Areva – nuclear steam supply system, fuel and I&C. As a way of dealing with the difficulties besetting Areva, EDF is to buy a majority stake in its reactor business, Areva NP. Areva says it plans to sell "at least 75%" of Areva NP to EDF for the "indicative" amount of €2bn, with a binding offer expected in the last quarter of 2015 and completion in the second half of 2016.

A further step forward for the Hinkley Point C supply chain was taken recently with the announcement of more preferred bidders for the project. "National, local and international supply chain events over the last six years have helped UK businesses understand the requirements necessary to join the project which will restart new nuclear construction in Britain after a 20 year pause", says EDF. It is now estimated that more than 60% of the construction cost will be placed with UK firms, against an initial estimate of 57%.

Preferred bidders announced in late July, with a combined contract value of more than £1.3 billion included:

  • Balfour Beatty Bailey, JV of Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey – electrical cabling and equipment installation;
  • Cavendish Boccard Nuclear, JV of Cavendish Nuclear and Boccard – mechanical pipework and equipment installation;
  • ACTAN, JV of Doosan Babcock, Axima Concept and Tunzini Nucleaire – heating, ventilation and air conditioning;
  • Laing O’Rourke – construction of workers’ campus accommodation;
  • ABB – power transmission;
  • Premier Interlink WACO UK – construction of temporary buildings;
  • Weir – large pumps for cooling water;
  • SPXClydeUnionPumps-safetyrelated pump packages for emergency feedwater system and component cooling water system.

In addition, local joint ventures have been set up among companies close to the site with a view to providing site services, transport and accommodation.

Two companies already working on the project are G4S (security) and Aggregate Industries (road construction), while project management contracts have been signed with: KBR; Jacobs; Gleeds; Faithful+Gould; Turner and Townsend; and Mace.

EDF Energy says it has also invested £11 million in training, education and skills in Somerset.