The UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) on 28 March granted its first consent to begin construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. The consent covers the placement of the structural concrete for the first nuclear safety-related structure at the site but does not give consent for all elements of construction.

Site licensee EDF NNB Generation Company will now start placement of the first structural concrete for the 'technical galleries' of the plant. These are a series of underground reinforced concrete structures to be located beneath the site and some above-ground structures, connecting services such as cooling water and electricity, ONR noted.

"Our consent for the first nuclear safety concrete at Hinkley Point C is a key regulatory milestone marking start of construction of the first nuclear power station since Sizewell B in Suffolk," Mike Finnerty, deputy chief nuclear inspector and director of ONR's New Reactors Programme, said.

Nuclear power plant construction is usually deemed to begin with the pouring of concrete for the reactor basemat, which for unit 1 of Hinkley Point C is scheduled for 2019. "We have carried out extensive assessment of EDF's safety case and preparedness for this important step at Hinkley Point C. However, this does not give consent for all elements of construction. We will continue to regulate NNB GenCo’s activities and have implemented a number of hold-points to ensure we have full regulatory control over the various construction and commissioning stages through to start of operation," Finnerty added.

Under the agreement signed in October 2015, China General Nuclear (CGN) will take a 33.5% stake in EDF Energy's GBP18bn ($28bn) project to construct Hinkley Point C, which will comprise two Areva-designed European pressurised reactors (EPRs) . The first unit is expected to be commissioned in 2025-2026.

The final agreements enabling construction of the two EPRs to proceed were signed on 29 September 2016 by the UK government, EDF and CGN.  This followed a long-awaited and positive final investment decision from the EDF board on 28 July. The UK EPR design was the first reactor design to complete the  Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process and receive a Design Acceptance Confirmation (DAC) from ONR and a Statement of Design Acceptability from the Environment Agency, in December 2012.