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  • An image released by EDF of the proposed nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point C. Photograph

    An image released by EDF of the proposed nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point C. Photograph | Photo: AFP

Published 28 July 2016

An EDF board member has quit ahead of a vote expected to give the French utility the go-ahead to build the Hinkley Point nuclear plant in Britain.

The board of French energy giant EDF votes Thursday on a hugely controversial project to build the first nuclear power station in Britain in nearly 20 years.

The board of directors for EDF are deeply divided over the plans to construct two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point for $23.8 billion, with the government's board representatives strongly supporting the project, labor union representatives strongly against and independent directors expected to tip the balance.

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Adding to the tension, one board member resigned just before the key meeting, saying he disagreed with the plan.

In a letter seen by AFP, Gerard Magnin said he could no longer support France's strategy to push nuclear energy at the expense of other options.

"As a board member backed by the shareholding government I no longer wish to support a strategy with which I disagree," Magnin said in the letter.

The plan to build the latest generation EPR reactors, signed in 2013, is to be carried out by EDF with Chinese partner CGN.

However, the project’s future was complicated by the recent decision of French nuclear company Areva to drop out because of financial difficulties and the subsequent takeover of Areva's obligations by EDF at the behest of the French government, which owns 85 percent of EDF.

Areva had to be rescued by the state from bankruptcy earlier this year.

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This pushed EDF, which was already struggling to repay debts of $40 billion euros by the end of last year, to borrow even more. Some market analysts have questioned the group's ability to juggle all its liabilities, including the renovation of France's nuclear operations and the takeover of Areva's reactors amid falling energy prices.

The Hinkley Point project is one of the world's most costly nuclear power plant projects.

"The situation in the company is extremely tense, and the chairman is more than ever isolated from his top managers and from unions," said one union source told AFP.

A decision to back the project will require a simple majority among EDF's board members.

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