Centrica Pulls Out of UK Nuclear Build Program

Centrica on Monday announced it will not take a minority interest in the construction of new reactors at the UK's Hinkley Point and Sizewell nuclear plants.

The utility acquired an option that would entitle it to a 20 percent stake of the projects in 2009, and it agreed to spend up to $1.58 billion on pre-construction activities. In a release Monday, the company said it will write off that cost and distribute capital set aside for the project in a $787 million stock buyback.

"Since our initial investment, the anticipated project costs in new nuclear have increased and the construction timetable has extended by a number of years. These factors, in particular the lengthening time frame for a return on the capital invested in a project of this scale, have led us to conclude that participation is not right for Centrica and our shareholders," Centrica CEO Sam Laidlaw said in the release.

Expecting the move, project partner EDF has been looking for new capital, possibly from China. The BBC noted that the French company last month said it would begin discussions with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holdings on new UK reactor development. The companies are already working together on a new nuclear plant in Taishan, China.

According to the World Nuclear Association, the EDF/Centrica venture, called NNB Generation, received a site license to build two Areva EPRs at Hinkley Point C last year. EDF has plans for a further two EPR units at Sizewell C.

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