A rust-colored dome looms over the muddy farmland of Hinkley Point, a headland overlooking the Bristol Channel in southwestern England.

When a giant yellow crane hoisted the 150ft-wide concrete and steel saucer into place this winter, it marked a milestone for what will be the first commercial nuclear power station built in Britain since the mid-1990s and a flagship in an effort to revive the industry.

However, the coverage of the first of the twin cylindrical reactor buildings was also a reminder of the prodigious, protracted and increasingly expensive effort to build what is known as Hinkley Point C.

Work on the plant has been underway for more than a decade, but completion is still years away.

Recently, Électricité de France, the French state-owned company that is building the plant, warned of even more delays. The start date, which two years ago was scheduled for 2027, has been delayed until the end of this decade, or perhaps until 2031.

The extra time will add billions more to a final bill that could reach up to 47.9 billion pounds, or about $60 billion, EDF said. In 2016, the price was set at £18 billion.

Nuclear power is regaining favor in the West as a tool to reduce greenhouse gases, with the British government last month announcing the “biggest expansion of nuclear power in 70 years.” But the record of nuclear power in Western Europe and the United States is not encouraging, with staggering delays and cost overruns plaguing recent projects. The fate of Hinkley Point and another project, planned on England’s east coast in the town of Sizewell, could determine whether Britain’s nuclear push accelerates or fades.

“The hype is at an all-time high,” said Franck Gbaguidi, a nuclear analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm. “Governments will over-promise and consistently under-deliver.”

In what executives say is an all-out effort to finish by 2030, EDF has 11,000 people in Hinkley working around the clock. Welders, engineers and electricians, employed by a host of contractors, are brought to the site in a fleet of white buses from a logistics center and from temporary apartments around the faded industrial town of Bridgwater.

There are “a large number of workers on site at any one time,” said Susan Goss, deputy chairwoman of Stogursey Parish Council, the local district. “I think it might be difficult to coordinate what they’re doing,” she added.

Britain was once a pioneer in splitting atoms to generate electricity, building a first series of reactors in the 1950s and 1960s, but the country has not completed a nuclear power plant in almost 30 years.

“The United Kingdom and the United States, in a sense, have forgotten how to build nuclear power plants,” said Simon Taylor, a professor at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School who has written extensively about Britain’s nuclear program. “We can rebuild that knowledge, but it will take a long time,” he added.

Nuclear plants are incredibly complex structures, and Britain has lacked a workforce with the right skills and contractors versed in choreographing the tasks that add up to a well-managed project, Taylor and other analysts said. Furthermore, the British process for certifying and permitting one of these facilities is painstakingly detailed and costs potential developers billions.

For one developer, it was too much. In 2019, Japanese conglomerate Hitachi abandoned a nuclear project in Wales after spending £2bn. The company blamed rising costs.

In 2008, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s administration began the current campaign to build nuclear plants, a government study suggested that new power plants could send electricity to the grid by 2018.

Since then, only Hinkley Point has reached an advanced stage, while Britain’s nuclear generating capacity declined more than 40 percent as aging plants were gradually shut down, according to the Nuclear Industry Association, a trade group. Over the past year, nuclear plants supplied about 14 percent of the country’s electricity, compared with 21 percent a decade ago.

“Relearning nuclear skills, creating a new supply chain and training a workforce has been an immense task,” Stuart Crooks, managing director of Hinkley Point, said in a recent memo to staff.

To compound the problem, the type of reactors being built at Hinkley Point have a reputation for being problematic. The British government allowed EDF to purchase most of Britain’s existing nuclear power system in 2009, and the company chose a design that the French nuclear industry helped develop, known as the European Pressurized Water Reactor, to build at Hinkley Point. .

Touted as one of the safest and most powerful reactors ever built, the design is now known for failures, delays and cost overruns, especially at the Olkiluoto sites in Finland, which began operating in 2023, and Flamanville in France, which is expected to come into operation. this year.

In theory, developers learn lessons every time they build a plant, reducing future costs, but that process does not appear to have been entirely successful with Hinkley’s reactors, which are the fifth and sixth of this design.

Roy Pumfrey, spokesman for Stop Hinkley, a group opposed to the plant, believes it is “doomed” to never be completed. “The reactor design is too complicated,” said Pumfrey, a retired teacher.

In his message, EDF’s Mr Crooks placed additional blame for delays and cost overruns on British nuclear regulations. To meet the requirements, Crooks said, the original design would need 7,000 changes, including 35 percent more steel and 25 percent more concrete. EDF is owned by the French government.

From great britain The Office of Nuclear Regulation responded quickly, saying in a Jan. 25 statement that it had requested changes after the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011, as well as experiences with other European pressurized reactors in Europe and China. As for additional concrete and steel, the regulator said France had similar requirements.

Still, there is evidence that building a nuclear plant takes longer and costs more in Britain. Britain Remade, a group seeking to accelerate economic development, found that similar reactors had been built much cheaper not only in China, which leads the world in building nuclear plants, but also in Finland and France, despite the delays there.

“It is clear that our approach to reactor planning and financing adds significant costs,” wrote two analysts, Sam Dumitriu and Ben Hopkinson, in a recent study.

Despite disappointments, nuclear power is gaining political support in Britain and elsewhere as a reliable source of low-emission energy. If Hinkley Point C is completed, it will power six million homes, more than two and a half times the next largest British nuclear power station. And the stable nature of nuclear energy is an important attribute; Renewable energies such as wind and solar are intermittent.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently announced an additional £1.3 billion to help fund the construction of EDF’s Sizewell plant, known as Sizewell C.

“Nuclear power is the perfect antidote to the energy challenges facing Britain,” Sunak said last month as he announced a plan to quadruple nuclear energy production by 2050.

Who will pay for this expansion? That’s not exactly clear.

The British government is now the main owner of Sizewell C, having bought a minority stake held by China General Nuclear, a Chinese state-owned company. EDF has reduced its stake from 80 percent to less than 50 percent and says it is determined to reduce it to less than 20 percent. EDF and the British government are hoping that lessons learned at Hinkley Point C will reduce the cost of Sizewell C, which has the same design.

The government, advised by Barclays Bank, is talking to a group of investors about the possibility of buying part of the Sizewell plant. As an incentive, officials are offering a new financing model that will allow developers to recoup their investments sooner.

A few years ago, Chinese companies were expected to play a major role in the British nuclear program, but the British government has become displeased with their involvement. China General still owns around a third of Hinkley Point C, but has stopped contributing to construction costs, according to EDF, leaving the French forced to pay to keep work going. China General did not respond to a request for comment. On Friday, EDF said it was writing off about $13.9 billion on the project.

With so much at stake for Britain, EDF and the French government are hopeful Sunak will contribute more to help finish Hinkley Point and make the next plant a success.

“The British authorities are interested in us being a solid partner to implement the project in the best conditions,” said Luc Rémont, CEO of EDF. “That is why I am confident that we will find a way forward with the UK authorities at both Hinkley Point and Sizewell.”

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing, and Liz Alderman from Paris.