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EDF plans to start building UK's Sizewell C nuclear plant in 2021

Electricité de France SA is pushing to start construction of its proposed 3.2-GW Sizewell C nuclear plant in England in late 2021, targeting a fast start to keep costs down in the wake of another new nuclear power station of the same size being built in the U.K. that is over budget and behind schedule.

The French state-owned utility said Oct. 17 that it will hold a third and final consultation round on the Sizewell C project in January 2019 and submit planning applications in early 2020 to pave the way for construction. The plant in Suffolk comprises two next-generation European Pressurized Water reactors and is a follow-on project to Hinkley Point C in Somerset, where EDF said work is on track to finish the 4,500-tonne concrete platform on which the reactor buildings sit in 2019.

By being a close copy of Hinkley Point and starting construction within five years of that plant's groundbreaking in 2016, the cost of Sizewell C could be reduced by a fifth, said Simone Rossi, CEO of U.K. subsidiary EDF Energy PLC.

"We have a great opportunity at Sizewell C to build a replica which would allow us to reduce the design costs," Rossi said in a statement. "It would also reduce the development costs and we would profit from a skilled and experienced supply chain as well as lower qualification costs and paperwork. All of that means a reduction in construction costs of about 20%, which will eventually flow through to consumers.

"The further we wait, the lower the construction benefits will be because the supply chain may not be the same and skills could be forgotten," he added.

Additional savings could be created by using a regulated asset base, or RAB, funding model to bring down the cost of capital, Rossi said.

The government is reviewing the viability of a RAB model for future nuclear projects, which would provide investors with a long-term rate of return, overseen by a sector watchdog. This would be based on the value of their regulated asset base rather than through a negotiated strike price, as in the case of Hinkley Point C.

Hinkley Point C, the U.K.'s first new nuclear power station in more than two decades, is aiming to start operating its first unit at the end of 2025, but EDF admitted in 2017 that it could be delayed by 15 months. Cost overruns for the two reactors at the site could rise to £2.2 billion, taking its overall cost to £20.3 billion.

EDF operates eight nuclear power plants in the U.K. In addition to Sizewell C, the company is also developing a joint proposal to build the Bradwell B nuclear plant in Essex with China General Nuclear Power Corp. Several other plants are proposed by developers including Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba's NuGeneration Ltd.