Events over the last few days have dented the prospects for UK new nuclear-build.
In Germany, the success of the CDU/CSU and FDP coalition has been welcomed by the markets. The shares of both E.On and RWE have rallied in the expectation that Germany’s controversial nuclear phase-out policy will be abolished – thereby massively boosting their free cash flow. Such a reversal does not mean that new nuclear-build will be undertaken in Germany.
It would mean, though, that both companies, along with EnBW and Vattenfall, could extend the lives of their nuclear plants whose capacity exceeds 20,000 MW. Furthermore, both E.On and RWE may well undertake investment at their existing nuclear plants to boost output. Against this background, their interest in participating in UK new nuclear-build may wane. And, in E.On’s case, with net debt of c£40 billion, reducing capex – rather than increasing it – is the compelling priority.
The UK Government’s new nuclear-build hopes also centre around EdF, which is 84% owned by the French Government. EdF has just confirmed the appointment of a new Chairman, Henri Proglio, who has spent most of his career at Veolia Environnement: he will now be top of DECC’s must-meet list. Central to his new responsibilities will be the reduction of EdF’s burgeoning net debt, which presumably will involve reversing some of the ambitious international expansion of late. The sale of some UK electricity distribution assets is anticipated.
Consequently, EdF’s hitherto robust commitment to new nuclear-build in the UK may erode. After all, it will not yield any revenues until 2018 at the earliest. Add to that, the more general weakness of oil and gas prices – at least compared with the boom times in 2007/08 when new nuclear-build interest peaked – and it is no surprise that the UK new nuclear-build programme is wobbling.
Is this unduly pessimistic?