By Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) – French utility EDF <EDF.PA> on Friday confirmed its commitment to build a nuclear plant at Hinkley Point following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
The 18 billion pound ($24 billion) project in southern England is one of the largest French investments in Britain and a final decision has been repeatedly delayed since it was first announced in Oct. 2013.
“EDF confirms its commitment to the Hinkley Point project, which continues,” an EDF spokeswoman said on Friday.
CEO Jean-Bernard Levy told reporters in France that the Brexit vote had no impact on the strategy of EDF and its UK subsidiary, according to a translation of his comments provided by EDF’s British unit EDF Energy.
He said EDF’s business strategy was not linked to Britain’s political affiliation with the European Union, and therefore EDF has no reason to change it.
Levy said that British Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and “Vote Leave” campaigner had come out in favor of maintaining the UK’s decarbonization policy, of maintaining the nuclear option, and of maintaining the Hinkley Point project.
“Therefore, there are no consequences from this vote today,” Levy was quoted as saying.
Levy also played down any negative impact from the fall in sterling after the referendum result.
“We operate in the markets like any large company, and we made sure that we did not take a position one way or the other. … we are in a neutral position,” he said.
EDF’s unions have argued for months that the state-owned firm should delay its decision on the project in Britain until a similar Areva-designed <AREVA.PA> reactor under construction in France is in operation and until EDF has boosted its balance sheet.
“Brexit brings another element of uncertainty which reinforces our position that the project should be delayed,” CGT union energy spokeswoman Marie-Claire Cailletaud said.
A source close to the company said Levy was eager to give the go-ahead for the project soon after the required consultation with EDF’s unions in the works council, scheduled for July 4.
“Levy wants a decision soon. That will be difficult, as the Hinkley Point project is now literally in a different kind of country, outside the European Union,” the source close to the company told Reuters.
Before the Brexit vote, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron had said that the decision would be taken by September.
EDF shares were down 9 percent in early afternoon trade, in line with the broader market.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Andrew Callus and Jane Merriman)