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Nuclear ambitions at Britain’s biggest construction site, Real Estate

AFTER almost four years of building, the UK’s biggest nuclear plant is nearly 40 per cent complete.

The project is Electricite de France’s (EDF) Hinkley Point C, the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in more than 20 years. It is now facing delays as the coronavirus pandemic hampered work on-site and hit supply chains.

It will take 50 million hours of work to transform the site, that is the size of 245 football fields, into a power station big enough to generate electricity for six million homes by 2025.

The project in south-west England will use 208,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement, that is enough to lay railway tracks from London to Rome.

The engineers use tablets to consult 3D models rather than relying on traditional paper drawings. EDF hired gaming experts to help with the design process, reminiscent of the computer game Minecraft, said Sarah Williamson, technical director for the project.

The rectangle swimming pool shape known as the “core catcher” is a safety feature designed to prevent a Fukushima-type disaster happening.

The reactor buildings at the Japanese plant flooded in 2011, causing a nuclear meltdown and radiation to be released into the atmosphere.

In the event of a crisis, a computer command will start a process to melt the nuclear core funnelling the liquid into the pool where it is mixed with concrete, that sets and then cannot escape into the atmosphere. The reactor would be destroyed but the surrounding area kept safe.

The site required 5.6 million cubic metres of excavation. “The earthworks were a challenge,” said Stuart Crooks, the managing director of Hinkley Point C.

“There were times when I wondered if we would ever get out of that hole in the ground,” he said.

Large areas of the site descend well below sea level for safety and seismic stability.

The prefabrication bunker is where EDF is making the steel liners that will encase the reactor building. The plan is to make huge 50-metre-wide pieces that can then be lifted out and moved into position by the world’s biggest crane – “Big Carl”.

The project will use 50,000 tonnes of structural steel, enough for five London Eye ferris wheels.

EDF’s relationship with partner China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN) has come under scrutiny as diplomatic relations between Britain and China have soured.

CGN has a 33 per cent stake in Hinkley and is involved in the planning for the next UK reactor project Sizewell C.

CGN has 30 workers on site at Hinkley but none of them are allowed to work on the nuclear part of the project. To comply with US export control law, EDF took precautionary steps to restrict e-mails between the project and China.