AFTER years of speculation and delays, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station was finally given the go-ahead seven years ago this month. 

Work is now well underway at Europe's largest construction site, which will power six million homes with low-carbon electricity from its two reactors. 

Theresa May's government officially backed the project in September 2016 – two months after postponing a decision on the project, despite French energy giant EDF's board giving its approval.

A year earlier, EDF and the China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN) had committed to Hinkley Point C by signing a strategic investment agreement. 

Back then, the project was expected to cost £18 billion. In 2023, EDF executives revealed in that costs could reach £32.7 billion due to rising inflation.

Somerset County Gazette: The milestone was welcomed by Jean-Bernard Lévy and other key figures behind the project.The milestone was welcomed by Jean-Bernard Lévy and other key figures behind the project. (Image: Archive)

Further delays, such as the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic, mean the site is now due to start generating power in June 2027. 

Announcing the project approval in September 2016, a government statement said: “Following a comprehensive review of the Hinkley Point C project, and a revised agreement with EDF, the government has decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.

“However, ministers will impose a new legal framework for future foreign investment in Britain’s critical infrastructure, which will include nuclear energy and apply after Hinkley.”

Greg Clark, the former Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “Having thoroughly reviewed the proposal for Hinkley Point C, we will introduce a series of measures to enhance security and will ensure Hinkley cannot change hands without the Government’s agreement.

“Consequently, we have decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.

“Britain needs to upgrade its supplies of energy, and we have always been clear that nuclear is an important part of ensuring our future low-carbon energy security.”

Jean-Bernard Lévy, EDF Group CEO, said the government's decision to approve construction “marks the relaunch of nuclear in Europe” and the UK's “desire to lead the fight against climate change through the development of low-carbon energy”.

Campaigners against the project reacted quickly; a petition signed by 360,000 people was handed into Downing Street just hours after the scheme was rubber-stamped.

Greenpeace and Stop Hinkley demanded the expected £18 billion costs be invested in renewable energy instead, with one protester calling the nuclear project “immoral”.

Stop Hinkley activist Sue Aubrey, who was 70 and lived in Nether Stowey, said: “Look at accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. This government has no plans to deal with the waste.”

Somerset County Gazette: Stop Hinkley protesters in Bridgwater in June 2016.Stop Hinkley protesters in Bridgwater in June 2016.

Molly Scott Cato, the Green MEP for the region and long-time opponent of the project, said: “When Theresa May called for a comprehensive review of Hinkley, it was hoped she would conclude that the project was economically illiterate, technically flawed, environmentally risky and a threat to security.

“This is what scientific, economic and environmental experts have been saying for years.

“But this is post-Brexit Britain, where the government turns its back on experts in the name of political expediency.

“In a desperate attempt to demonstrate Brexit Britain is open for business, the government is handing over our energy infrastructure to the Chinese Communist Party.”

But local businesses and colleges embraced the government's decision to back the project, which is being worked on by around 22,000 people in Britain. 

 Somerset County Gazette: The first batch of concrete was successfully poured at Hinkley Point C in March 2017.The first batch of concrete was successfully poured at Hinkley Point C in March 2017. (Image: EDF)

Stephen Leahy, chairman of the Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce, said: “There has been a lot of expectation built up over the years relating to this project, and we can really get on with building a very strong and vibrant town and surrounding area.

“The expected growth will need to be managed but will throw up great opportunities, and it’s one of our goals and challenges to keep large portions of the expected wealth within the local community.”

A month later, in October 2016, government ministers from the UK, France and China attended a signing ceremony giving the final go-ahead for construction to start. 

Former Somerset County Council leader John Osman said: “Today’s contract signing is the point of no return on this extremely important project.

“Hinkley Point C is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our businesses, young people and the county as a whole.”

Another key milestone was reached in March 2017, when the first batch of concrete was poured for the power station galleries – a network of connected tunnels that will carry cabling and pipes.