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Hinkley Point C construction to continue, but workforce reduced to half

25 March 2020

EDF Energy has said it will reduce the size of its workforce at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station project in Somerset, UK due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. From March 24, the workforce at Britain’s largest construction site will drop from 4,500 to around 2,000 as remaining skilled workers concentrate on critical areas and work in shifts with extra transport and staggered breaks to minimise contact.

Hinkley Point C Unit 1 nuclear island - Image: EDF
Hinkley Point C Unit 1 nuclear island - Image: EDF

The changes were announced after a worker expressed concerns to local news website, Somerset Live, about the risk of spreading the coronavirus through the workforce. Around 1,500 workers live in temporary shared accommodation at the Somerset site and return to their homes across the country at the end of a rota pattern. The remaining 3,000 workers use bus services from local train stations, which one person told Somerset Live were often packed full. The worker also said that around 600 or so workers clock in and out at the same time, but no hand sanitiser is provided and social distancing rules are not adhered to.

The reduction of the workforce is meant to make social distancing easier at the site and reduce crowding on buses and in social areas, such as canteens.

In a statement, EDF Energy said it was already taking steps to reduce contact between workers, such as having those who can work from home do so, temperature checks for workers on the site, extra cleaning rotas, and changes to movement patterns.

“The project will preserve the UK’s specialist nuclear supply chain and its skilled workers by focusing on critical work on nuclear parts of the project.  Keeping this capability intact is essential for a project of critical national importance and an industry which plays a key role in helping the UK reach net zero,” the company said.

The GMB Union, a general trade union with more than 630,000 members, announced that it is in several discussions a day with EDF in order to secure the long-term futures of workers at Hinkley Point. 

On March 24, GMB Regional Officer Matt Roberts said: “After the Prime Ministers announcement yesterday and due to the sheer scale and number of people involved in the Hinkley Point C Project, it has become clear that despite the best efforts of the trade unions, employees, and the Project Board, it has become almost impossible to maintain full operations with the vital new measures introduced to combat COVID19. Safety is everyone’s top priority.

“We are aware that EDF and the companies involved are exploring options to keep workers, including the new government Furlough scheme, and we will work with them to find solutions to the short-term issues thrown up by the current crisis.

The Hinkley Point C project has faced several delays and cost-overruns. In September 2019, EDF said the new nuclear plant will cost up to £2.9bn more than previously estimated due to challenging ground conditions at the site. This raised the estimate for the project to between £21.5bn and £22.5bn. EDF also said the risk of the project being late had risen.

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