The workforce constructing the new Hinkley nuclear power station is to be reduced by more than half to around 2,000 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
French energy giant EDF said it was continuing with the project to build Hinkley Point C in Somerset but the “safety of workers and the community” was paramount.
It said the workforce would be “significantly reduced, falling by more than half to around 2,000” and that staffing levels would reduce further as work on the project progresses.
Hinkley Point C is estimated to cost between £21.5 billion and £22.5 billion to construct and is expected to begin generating power by the end of 2025.
“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,” a spokesman for EDF said in a statement.
“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.”
EDF said a series of measures would be adopted that would involve split shift working and staggered breaks, while fewer staff would allow easier social distancing in operational areas and the canteen.
“Steps already in place include shutting our Bristol head office, working from home for those that can, temperature checks on people entering the site, extra cleaning, changes in movement patterns, closure of bars and gyms,” the spokesman said.
“We are aware that many people and families in the locality depend on us and we will work with them to mitigate the impact of our reduced activity.
“We will consider how our resources can be used to help the community in the current crisis.
“We will continue to work with the trade unions and our supply chain to keep people safe and help them deal with the developing situation.”
Opponents of the Hinkley Point C project criticised the decision to carry on and called on the Government to tell them to stop.
“This is putting lives at risk right across Somerset and the whole of the country,” said Stop Hinkley campaign spokeswoman Katy Attwater.
“Why hasn’t the Prime Minister ordered them to stay at home – is he just pandering to the nuclear lobby?
“While the rest of the country is in lockdown, EDF fails to acknowledge that if someone has developed a fever, they have been incubating and spreading the virus for days beforehand.
“Monitoring for fever is leaving it too late. Who is advising them on best practice?
“EDF is irresponsible with its decisions on climate change, marine protection, archaeological heritage, and future safety of the people in Somerset.
“Now it is failing to address the Covid-19 emergency adequately. They need to stop work at Hinkley Point C now to protect workers and local people.”
Matt Roberts, GMB regional officer, said: “After the Prime Minister’s 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 Covid-19. 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.
“GMB are in several discussions a day with EDF to ensure that workers get the best deal in the short term, and that we secure their long-term future at the site.
“We are strongly committed to the safety of our members and the future of the Hiinkley Point C project.”