Horizon Nuclear Power
Horizon Nuclear Power is a UK energy company formed in January 2009 by the German-owned E.ON UK and RWE npower in a joint venture to develop new nuclear power stations in the UK. Both E.ON and RWE already jointly owned three nuclear power stations in Germany, with stakes in 17 others worldwide.
In March 2012, the companies announced their intention to withdraw from UK nuclear and seek new owners for Horizon. They blamed this withdrawal on a lack of cash, partly resulting from recent lower profit margins in gas- and coal-powered electricity generation, along with the damage caused by the German government's decision to desert nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
In October 2012, Hitachi announced the acquisition of Horizon. The deal is expected to be completed at the end of November and Hitachi says it will then start "leading a programme of building new nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom".
Continuing 'not an option' for RWE
In May 2012 MPs on the UK Commons select committee for energy and climate change were told by the chief executive of RWE Volker Beckers that persisting with Horizon was not an option, adding that "It would have meant a [credit] downgrading, and we could not afford to do that." The company had already suffered one downgrade and was reducing its capital requirements in response.
Government and nuclear firms work together to soften the bad news
In July it emerged that government officials had worked closely with E.ON and RWE to soften the impact of their major blow to the UK government's nuclear build plans. This, said the Guardian newspaper, was 'further evidence of how Westminster has collaborated with the industry to try and protect nuclear power from bad news, first exposed by the Guardian in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in Japan last year'. It revealed that:
- Two days before the announcement, Hergen Haye, head of new nuclear at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), wrote to E.ON and RWE. He asked if he could be informed when the companies had told Carwyn Jones, Labour's first minister for Wales, of their decision. Haye told the companies that this was "in order for us to share our press lines to co-ordinate a united message". The companies' proposed press statements looked "broadly fine", he said, but promised to forward "any detailed comments". He asked about "engagement plans and timing" for telling local authorities. "Also we have been thinking about some difficult/defensive line issues and would be grateful for sight of what you may say," he said.
- He wanted to know how the companies would respond to journalists questioning whether the UK government could have done something differently to prevent the pull out. "Do you think it is possible for new nuclear to be built in the UK?" Haye asked. E.ON responded the next morning by saying it believed that ministers were "putting in place a framework which will make it possible for new nuclear". Its withdrawal was "not a reflection on the work done by the UK government".
- At the same time, RWE gave details of when it was informing Jones, as well as Labour's shadow energy minister, Tom Greatrex, the commercial secretary to the Treasury, Lord Sassoon, and a raft of other politicians and local stakeholders. "We think it is possible for new nuclear to be built in the UK," RWE said. "As you can see from the press release, we are not making any comment on the UK policy position."
- The emails, large portions of which have been censored, were released by Decc in response to a request under freedom of information legislation. One from RWE is marked "strictly private and confidential".
- Alan Raymant - Chief Operating Officer
- E.ON UK Nuclear, website accessed 4 June 2012
- Hitachi Announces the Acquisition of Horizon Nuclear Power, Hitachi, 30 October 2012
- Damian Carrington, Energy companies blame abandonment of nuclear plans on lack of cash, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 May 2012 16.49 BST, accessed 4 June 2012
- Rob Edwards, Emails reveal UK government's moves to protect nuclear power from bad news, guardian.co.uk, Thursday 19 July 2012 12.31 BST, acc same day