Campaign group seeks judicial review of government’s decision to give green light to £10bn Hinkley plant


The government’s nascent nuclear new build programme suffered a fresh blow this week after it emerged that Greenpeace has launched a legal challenge against EDF’s £10bn Hinkley nuclear project.

The challenge is against the government’s decision to grant planning permission for the new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant on the grounds the government has yet to secure a site to store the plant’s nuclear waste. If the application for judicial review is granted, the project could be hit by months if not years of legal wrangling as the case is heard in court.

The move comes after Building revealed earlier this month that EDF will not make a final investment decision on the Hinkley nuclear plant project until at least September and is set to cut up to half the staff on the site in Somerset. EDF is still in negotiations with the government over an agreed price for electricity from the plant.

Last year Laing O’Rourke, in partnership with Bouygues, won the £2bn main civils contract for the project.

In court papers seen by Building, Greenpeace argues that energy secretary Ed Davey “impermissibly put a positive gloss on a number of factual matters and ignored other facts and the context” in his decision to give the go-ahead to the Hinkley project in March this year.

The planning permission came after a decision by Cumbria council in February to withdraw from the process to find a long-term storage site for nuclear waste in its area. Cumbria had been the only area taking part in the process.

The government’s own policy on nuclear power commits it to “need to be satisfied that effective arrangements exist or will exist to manage and dispose of waste” from new nuclear power plants before giving planning permission.

Greenpeace argued that Cumbria’s decision meant this test could not have been met and the government “failed to take into account or recognise the true significance of [Cumbria’s] decision”.

It said: “Over nearly 40 years the government has found it impossible, no matter the gloss it puts on it and despite intensive and expensive efforts […] to find any site specific solution to, or to make any real progress on finding any such solution, to the problem of ‘disposing’ safely of legacy waste.”

Leila Deen, Greenpeace energy campaigner, told Building that the government “appears to have proceeded on the basis of ‘optimism’ that a waste facility can be found”.

“But with Cumbria council having refused to host one, and no other candidate site on the table, there is absolutely no basis for that optimism,” she said.

The government’s defence, filed at the High Court, said there was “no sustainable basis” for the judicial review and it should be dismissed.

The government’s defence pointed to the fact that in May it had put out a consultation on how the process to find a nuclear waste storage site could be modified to help it progress.

NNB Generation Company, the vehicle developing the scheme in which EDF is the majority shareholder, submitted arguments supporting the government.

It said: “The very nature of the voluntary approach to finding a [storage site] adopted by the secretary of state is that there may well be setbacks along the way, and volunteer communities can withdraw right up to the start of construction.”