Four of the UK’s major nuclear projects under construction or due to be constructed in the near future have all suffered from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown. The workforce at Hinkley Point C has more than halved in comparison with the beginning of the year, while nuclear sites Wylfa Newydd, Sizewell C and Bradwell B have all faced planning complications as systems grind to a halt amid the outbreak. The World Nuclear Association said that maintaining reliable electricity supplies is “vital”, highlighting the fact that nuclear generation supplies around 10.5% of electricity worldwide and contributes to electricity generation in over 30 countries. Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit head of analysis Dr Jonathan Marshall added that another challenge thrown up by the pandemic is the delay to the government’s Energy White Paper which should set out the new funding model and was due last year. “The longer that’s delayed, the more uncertainty there is around if and how the next generation of nuclear power stations are going to be paid for,” he said. “Last year there was a push from the industry to say we need this funding model to be locked in so we can start to plan. So the reassignment of civil servants towards the crisis response could cause uncertainty. People aren’t going to submit a planning application and do more work on projects without knowing that the policies are in place to be able to pay for them.” Marshall added that for Sizewell and other proposed projects, planning applications can be done remotely. So, although there are delays, it should still be possible to push the processes through. However, at Hinkley, he said, they’ve had to “change the way they work” to comply with social distancing. The remaining workforce is now just under 2,500 people, after an initial drop to around 2,000 in March. In a coronavirus update this week, Hinkley construction delivery director Nigel Cann confirmed that, since the beginning of the pandemic, five members of the Somerset site team have tested positive for coronavirus. He stressed that this includes one who had not been on site for more than three weeks before feeling ill and so is unlikely to have posed a risk. There is also no evidence of infections on site. Investigations include contact tracing and tracking the health of those who are, or have been, in self-isolation. Cann added: “Our remaining workforce is now well adapted to social distancing and the experience gained has helped us to make a small and safe increase in numbers to just under 2,500, still fewer than half what it was at the start of the year.
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