The Treasury will pay the wages of hundreds of workers building the £22.5bn Hinkley Point C nuclear power station as developer EDF and its contractors slash costs.
Work is under way to furlough workers onto the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme where the Government will pay 80pc of their wages until the crisis recedes and they can return to work.
French state-owned EDF said last week it was halving numbers at Hinkley, in Somerset, to around 2,000, to try and maintain social distancing. While some of those taken off site are continuing to work in back office roles, the burden of paying wages for hundreds of them will be transferred to the state.
Workers at Hinkley include those directly employed by EDF as well as those employed by around 200 contractors and more subcontractors.
It is understood those set to be furloughed initially are from the contractors rather than EDF directly. The aim is to bring them back into work as soon as possible.
EDF and its partner China General Nuclear, the Chinese developer, are building two reactors at the site which will power up to six million homes, the UK's first new nuclear power station in more than 20 years.
The site is expected to cost up to £22.5bn and be ready in 2025, compared to earlier estimates that it would cost about £18bn and would be ready by Christmas 2017.
Investors are due to recoup upfront costs through a generous, and controversial, government guarantee of £92.50 per MwH once the site is up and running.
EDF has not disclosed any change to the timeline, but any delays are likely to be expensive.
Its decision to halve the workforce in Somerset comes amid growing concerns that construction workers are having their health put at risk because it is difficult to control infection risks on active building sites.
EDF said at the time: "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."
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