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A nuclear renaissance or ‘totally bats’?

A masked protester stands in front of the gates to the Hinkley Point nuclear power station
Matt Cardy | Getty Images
A masked protester stands in front of the gates to the Hinkley Point nuclear power station

The announcement of the first nuclear power station to be built in Europe since the 2011 Fukushima disaster has been met with decidedly mixed reactions.

The U.K.'s £16 billion ($25.8 billion) Hinkley Point plant, which will have two new reactors, will be made by French company EDF with backing from Chines estate-backed nuclear companies CGN and CNNC.

Controversy has been sparked over the "strike price", the fixed sum paid to utilities for the energy they generate, of £92.50 per megawatt/hour, which is double the current market rate. The announcement came after several of the biggest U.K.energy providers announced hefty price hikes. EDF will invest £3.5 billion inequity, but will make some of that back by selling stakes to the Chinese companies.

(Read more: UK to build Europe's first nuclear plant since Fukushima)

The high "strike price" means that the U.K. ratepayer is effectively subsidizing the foreign companies and investors which are building the new plant, Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, told CNBC.

"There are no local resources involved. Foreign capitals and technologies are being subsidized to deliver the most expensive resource. It's totally bats," he said.

"It's exactly the wrong kind of investment. This is a mausoleum to the folly of the past, not a new renaissance."

Others welcomed the plans for the plant, which should provide around 7 percent of the U.K.'s electricity when it is fully operational, hopefully in 2023.

(Read more: Japan set to be nuclear power-free, again)

Hinkley Point nuclear power station
myLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Hinkley Point nuclear power station

"This is a landmark deal which will help us meet our future energy challenges, while boosting jobs and growth," John Cridland, director-general of British business body the CBI, said.

"The fact is whatever we do, energy prices are going to have to go up to replace ageing infrastructure and meet climate change targets - unless we build new nuclear as part of a diverse energy mix."

The U.K. is investing in nuclear at a point when the reliability of the world's fleet of older nuclear power plants has been questioned.

Nuclear plant outages are rising and other countries, even France, which has long been the world's biggest user of nuclear energy as a percentage of its usage, are dropping their usage of the controversial energy source.

(Read more: Is nuclear disaster looming in Japan?)

The new regime in Japan had raised hope for a resumption of some nuclear power generation, after the fallout from Fukushima, which famously went into meltdown following the tsunami of 2011.

The amount of the world's energy produced from nuclear plants dropped by 7 percent in 2012, the biggest drop ever, after falling by 4 percent in 2011, according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

"Nuclear power is based on a catastrophically dangerous source of power. In order to extract it safely, we are forced to build incredibly complex technologies around it. It is never as safe as we want because Mother Nature and human nature are constantly throwing "beyond design" events at it," Cooper said.

"If you're talking about decarbonizing an economy, you have to go to something that makes economic sense."

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