Ed Davey MP writes… Hinkley Point C – a big step forward for energy decarbonisation

Today I announced that we have reached an outline commercial agreement with EDF to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset.

I know this will cause a wide range of reactions within the party. Most will welcome this very significant step forward in our plans to decarbonise our energy sector. A substantial minority I know will be disappointed. Before outlining the terms of what I believe is a good deal for the British consumer let me repeat what I said at the Glasgow conference as to why I have changed my mind and now believe that nuclear has a role to play in our energy mix.

At the moment 40% of our electricity comes from dirty coal power stations and 20% from nuclear power stations. Over the next ten years or so we expect almost all of those coal power stations to close along with all but one of our existing nuclear power stations. When Hinkley Point C opens in 2023 over half of our generation capacity will be from plants which do not currently exist. That is a massive investment challenge and it is simply unrealistic to expect all that to come from renewable energy and we do not want it all to come from gas. To generate as much electricity as Hinkley Point C, around 7% of total UK electricity generation,  we would need to cover the area of West Sussex with 6000 wind turbines or the area of Kent with solar panels. And we would still need a lot of back up gas power plants as we will not have cost effective storage or interconnection capacity by then. I just do not think that is realistic So if we are to decarbonise and keep the lights on we have to have nuclear as part of our energy mix.

So how does the Hinkley Point C deal avoid the mistakes of the past. Firstly, the deal we have structured means that consumers will not pay a penny more for electricity if the construction cost of the power station is higher than envisaged. But if the cost is less then consumers will pay less. Secondly we have ensured that the cost of decommissioning the nuclear power plant is included in the price and EDF will start paying towards that as soon as they start generating. So we will not have the situation we have had with the old nuclear power stations where the taxpayer is left to pick up the bill. The price we have negotiated, £89.50 per MWh, is less than any other large scale low carbon generation technology such as onshore wind, offshore wind or solar. So it is also good news for the consumer.

In my speech at the conference in Glasgow I pledged that I would not sign off any deal which represented a public subsidy to new nuclear – and I have kept that pledge. Critics may say that the fact that we will be paying more than the current wholesale price for electricity means there is a subsidy. They will also say that we are giving a longer contract for nuclear than we are giving renewable. But it is important that we compare apples with apples. The wholesale price of electricity does not include the full costs of carbon emissions.  People cannot both say that carbon emissions have a long term devastating impact on our economy and environment and then say we should not include the cost of carbon in any comparison. When you do include those full costs then the deal we have signed is cheaper. The reason we are giving nuclear a longer contract than for existing renewable projects is because a nuclear plant will be generating for more than twice as long as a solar or wind project. But if a renewable plant , such as a tidal barrage, lasts a long time we would also give that project a longer contract.

And let’s not forget what a fantastic boost this project is for investment, growth and jobs. Investment of £16 billion on top of the £35 billion investment in our energy infrastructure which has been committed since 2010. And the creation of around 25000 jobs during construction.

This is good news for the economy. Good news for consumers. Good news for energy security. Good news for the environment.  Good news for jobs.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston and Surbiton and Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesperson.

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55 Comments

  • lloyd harris 21st Oct '13 - 12:06pm

    I would welcome another look at hydro – since the collapse of the textile industry in the north there appears to be a some dammed rivers that have little of no purpose now they are not needed for industry. Can these instead be made as hydro electric power stations?

  • It’s obvious that this has been a complicated negotiation, but it is equally clear that this article, other government communications and certainly messages from various opponents will be simplified if not massively oversimplified. What document is available to answer the many questions which will arise in a little more detail?

    1. What happens if EDF go bust or otherwise do not deliver?
    2. What happens if the UK government finds itself unable to support the price in the future?
    3. What happens if nobody wants to buy this electricity?
    4. What is EDF’s record in delivering on time?
    5. What happens if EDF’s project goes over budget?
    6. In what circumstances will the strike price vary over time? Inflation, other energy prices, regulatory changes…?
    7. and on, and on, and on

  • Gareth, the formula seems to be “it’s not a subsidy because it’s no greater than the subsidy for any other ‘clean’ energy… after we’ve done a bit of fudging”. It seems to break the two manifestos rather more strongly than the rather wweedy coalition agreement.

  • This is one of the simplistic treatments I mentioned above, though the last two sentences are slightly interesting.

    http://blogs.ft.com/westminster/2013/10/ft-westminster-handy-guide-to-the-edf-hinkley-point-deal/

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '13 - 12:42pm

    Ed Davey is right to say that we have to factor in the price of carbon (and other environmental costs), so we cannot just compare everything with the wholesale price and think we are comparing like for like. This is why carbon trading is such a bad idea, because the carbon has already been factored into the price, as we can see from the above.

    Overall, I think this is good news. The only thing that I have felt quite apprehensive about is the fact that we are using equity rather than debt finance. In my opinion if you are confident in a project then you should use debt finance if you are able to get it, which we are.

  • @GarethEpps – possibly because the manifesto pledge was bonkers and totally incompatible with a deliverable way of decarbonising our power supply? Just a thought.

  • I and probably like others have mixed feelings on this – the decision to build new Uranium-based nuclear. However, it is good to see that the government has finally drawn a line under the two decades of procrastination over nuclear and made a definite decision to make the first steps. A concern is that this decision has been made with very little public debate and discussion about the role (if any) of nuclear in the UK.

    The decision to award the contract to a consortium led by EDF and including EDF’s long-term Chinese partners (CGN & CNNC), I think is quite brave; perhaps major infrastructure deals such as this are the modern version of the inter-marrying of (ruling) royal households that happened in previous centuries… now what are China giving the UK as it’s dowry?

    It will be useful to know how the monies being put aside for decommissioning are going to be protected, the last thing we need is for another Chancellor organising a raid on these monies in the way we’ve seen recent Chancellors raid pension funds to help balance the books…

  • Martin Lowe 21st Oct '13 - 1:07pm

    @StephenW:

    I am encouraged by what you’re saying about the decommissioning costs. If they really will remain with EDF then this appears a relatively good deal.

    This is a deal done with a private company, who will do the absolute minimum that they can get away with doing.

    Decommissioning will be EDF (or its successor) going “bodge bodge bodge – this’ll do” and my UK taxpayer descendants will be the ones having to cough up for the shortfall.

  • Ed, just one (fairly fundamental) question.

    Exactly what will be done with the radioactive waste the plant will produce?

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Oct '13 - 1:59pm

    tpfkar

    @GarethEpps – possibly because the manifesto pledge was bonkers and totally incompatible with a deliverable way of decarbonising our power supply? Just a thought

    if that’s the case, those elected on the basis of that manifesto should resign and seek a new mandate.

  • Confirming awarding the contract to the French on Trafalgar Day………… Shocking.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Oct '13 - 2:06pm

    Roland

    I think is quite brave; perhaps major infrastructure deals such as this are the modern version of the inter-marrying of (ruling) royal households that happened in previous centuries…

    No, it’s the modern version of imperialism, with us as the colony.

    This is how the British Empire developed. The British established trading links with other countries, then persuaded the elite in those other countries to give them more and more control, on the grounds this was modernising and beneficial to all concerned, Gradually the British took more and more control, leaving the local elite in token leadership positions, while screwing the rest of the local population for all they could get out of them. As someone put it “they came, we had the land and they had the Bible, they told us to close our eyes and pray, and when we opened them we found we had the Bible and they had the land”.

  • Paul Pettinger 21st Oct '13 - 2:08pm

    Why did you reaffirm in your speech in Glasgow that you would not subsidise new nuclear, when you are ensuring this project is subsided by the public by fixing the price of the energy produced so as to make it viable?

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '13 - 2:11pm

    I also want to say that negotiating a strike price should actually make the deal more favourable to the UK, not the foreign investors, which is what people are spinning. This makes the deal riskier from our perspective and we should “profit” from that. It all depends how effectively we negotiated. An agreement like this takes real financial and energy expertise to get right, which is probably why it took so long. I only hope that our decisions have been made on the basis of excellent advice.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    Perhaps they should. But if any MP from any party who didn’t enact every pledge in their manifesto resigned, we’d have a lot of general elections. We’re not the only party guilty of this; and further as there is no Lib Dem majority government we can say that we have changed our view as our manifesto did not command the majority support of the people of Britain and we have listened to them.

    A further point is that I’d much rather vote for a candidate who was honest about the areas they didn’t agree with their party’s manifesto on than a press release on legs, and there will be those elected on a manifesto who have been clear where they were not in sympathy with it. Should they resign too?

  • David Allen 21st Oct '13 - 2:46pm

    “The decision … is quite brave”

    Yes, that’s what Sir Humphrey would have said.

  • http://www.edwarddavey.co.uk/archive/news394.htm

    “In addition to posing safety and environmental risks, nuclear power will only be possible with vast taxpayer subsidies or a rigged market.” Say one thing in opposition, the opposite in power – either that or safety risks, vast subsidy and rigged markets have mysteriously become a good thing. I do wonder how some people can come out with such things and keep a straight face.

  • Oh dear, Nuclear power, looks like the taxpayer is about to get taken for a ride again,,,,

  • The only rational way to build these would be for the state to borrow the money and build them directly. Instead here’s a plan to make it vastly more expensive by paying someone else to do it. Including a foreign state – who’ll get massive guaranteed profits. Fits with selling off Royal mail for 2/3 it’s value. Complete ideologically driven Alice in Wonderland.

  • That link has gone dead in the last half hour or so. Someone a bit embarrassed perhaps?

  • Peter Watson 21st Oct '13 - 4:54pm

    @Jules “That link has gone dead in the last half hour or so. Someone a bit embarrassed perhaps?”
    Quick, get Stephen Tall on the case. He likes to write LDV articles about embarrassing websites being taken off-line. 😉

  • Peter Watson 21st Oct '13 - 5:12pm

    @tpfkar “we can say that we have changed our view as our manifesto did not command the majority support of the people of Britain and we have listened to them.”
    Pardon!
    The conservative manifesto did not command majority support either. In fact, when was the last time any party actually secured a majority of the votes cast rather than benefit from an unrepresentative electoral system.
    Furthermore, Lib Dems have never received majority support. Are you suggesting we abandon principles and simply change our policies after each election in order to support whichever party receives the most votes?

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Oct '13 - 5:46pm

    Last week Ed Davey railed against “state intervention” in the energy markets.

    Today we have the state arranging a deal by which (foreign) state-owned energy companies are to build nuclear power stations to keep our lights on.

    If only our own state intervened in the energy business to the same extent as the French and Chinese.

  • “The only rational way to build these would be for the state to borrow the money and build them directly.”
    Whilst it may be rational for the state to borrow the money, given the rates the government can achieve. I’m less certain about building them directly, as this keeps the construction risks with the government. It wouldn’t surprise me for the government to borrow money and lend it to EDF at a small margin. About the only worry is the currency the deal has actually been done in.

    “who’ll get massive guaranteed profits.”
    Although the price per megawatt has been set and will include a profit element, the actual level of profits achieved will depend on EDF and partners successfully constructing and then operating the power stations for 60 years…

  • Tony Dawson 21st Oct '13 - 5:56pm

    The question of “how long does it take a Lib Dem Secretary of State to ‘go native’?” is now easily answered.

    Underpinning both this announcement and the ensuing debate is the Fukishima question. Not “if” the engineering and economic answers presented to the state by the nuclear industry are dishonest but “by how much?”

    Simplistic centralist solutions to energy supply, locking us in to ‘solutions’ with catastrophic downsides in any serious failure scenario are an anathema to anyone with an ounce of nous. The nuclear industry’s true Carbon costs are going to be a whole lot higher than they pretend and their economic costs will end up higher still. Has everybody forgotten the THORP fisaco (No, it’s nothing to do with Rinka!) ?

    Bring back David Steel!

  • nuclear power no thanks! Nein Danke! We do not want volatile and highly dangerous nuclear power! remember 3 mile island; Japanese reactor accident; Chernobyl etc

    Here we go with a plan led by the Tories to completly ignore the green alternatives to nuclear power! I will not be moving to Somerset to live that’s for sure or on the wind side lol

    Nuclear waste lasts forever poisoning the environment and the whole nuclear energy is putting the future of our children and grand children’s future safety.

    Many of us will protest and try to to try to stop any new nuclear power station being built.

    It will not lead to anything but higher bills

    We are subsidizing nuclear and ignoring green alternatives!

    Protest protest and protest! Stop nuclear going ahead!

    I wonder if the bosses of EDF etc or government will live by one of these proposed power stations ? methinks not

  • David Peters 21st Oct '13 - 10:32pm

    The claims about decommissioning costs being covered have been left without any explanation.
    Our current decommissioning bill is over £3billion a year, which is more than three times the total subsidy given to wind power in total!
    Thus far all decommissioning costs have spiraled out of control in the UK, so there is no way anyone could predict them for a new plant with any certainty.
    Finally, why won’t the government explain just how these costs are covered in the strike price when that price is about paying money to EDF and not about paying money back the UK Gov? It simply makes no sense as explained.

  • Of all the bad things this coalition has done, this could be the worst.

    After all this talk about cutting bills, we are signing up to pay DOUBLE the present bills, for many decades to come.

    Mind you, this will look good, if the price of fossil fuel also doubles. Granted, it has increased over recent years, hence all the troubles wrongly blamed on the energy companies. However, thanks to the US shale gas bonanza, fossil fuel prices are not likely to go on rising.

    So OK, arguably we should be prepared to pay a price premium for a low carbon energy source. (Although it is a source that countries like Germany and Japan don’t want any more of , at any price!)

    Well then, look at the competition from renewables. Wind and solar technology are improving and getting cheaper all the time. Granted, at the moment these do cost a bit more than the £92.50. But not much more. You can bet that by the time Hinkley comes on stream (2023, or 2033 perhaps!), they will be undercutting Hinkley.

    Then there will be strife. The UK government will not actually want Hinkley to run, because its power is so expensive. So perhaps the UK government will “discover” safety issues, which will keep it shut.

    Then again, maybe the UK won’t have to invent the safety issues. Secretive Chinese technology meets tough British nuclear safety inspectorate. Sounds like a collision course.

    So why is the price really that high?

    It’s that high, because every other potential supplier held back. Making EDF’s persistence more “attractive”. The other suppliers held back because they were scared of the downside. If you build a successful nuclear plant, you make a few bob. If Angela Merkel comes along and shuts it, on the other hand, you lose squillions. That’s the downside.

    EDF found a way not to be terrified by the downside. That was, demand a mint of money on the upside, and then the gamble might be worth taking. The Coalition has duly offered a mint of money.

    As Jeremy says, if the UK government really wanted nuclear, the way to get it would have been to build direct. That way, we would have chosen to carry our own political risk, the risk of a future anti-nuclear government ordering a shutdown. We wouldn’t have had to pay EDF a mint so that they could take that risk for us.

    Once upon a time there used to be a political party who weren’t in hock to powerful vested interests, and would have spilled all the beans about this sort of disaster in the making. They might have got it stopped. What happened to that useful party?

  • Duncan Brack 22nd Oct '13 - 11:43am

    Ed, thanks for the piece, but could you answer these questions:

    1 If the strike price for nuclear includes the cost of avoiding carbon emissions, what is the price per tonne DECC is using to calculate this? And is this reduced by the fact that nuclear-generated electricity will not bear the costs of the UK carbon price floor or the EU emissions trading scheme?

    2 If the strike price for nuclear is not a subsidy, why is the government applying for state aids clearance from the European Commission to permit it to go ahead?

  • It seems to me, then, that we are back to the Major Government’s NFFO (Non Fossil Fuel Obligation), which justified giving nuclear a subsidy – usually more generous than to renewables! No new ideas then, just “recycled” ones (yes, even that weak pun is re-used, I am afraid!) What I do claim some credit for, yesterday, is being first to pick up on this deal being analogous to PFI, which I see is used here, and is all the rage in today’s press. How many more Lib Dem ideas should we go back on? Sorry, Ed this is just awful.

  • Frank Hindle 22nd Oct '13 - 1:46pm

    If environmental costs are being included, does that include the cost of looking after the radioactive waste for how many thousand years?

  • Prior to making the claim that taxpayers will not be left picking up the Bill for decommissioning, this Government altered the law precisely to leave that option open.

    The Government used to be able to instruct EDF to change its decommissioning proposals should something unexpected arise that meant the initial plans were not considered safe/satisfactory. Under the law as passed by the last Government, EDF would have had to meet any costs arising from such unexpected problems.

    However, this Government changed the law in 2011 in order to reduce the risk to the companies. Of course, a law cannot reduce the risk of problems with decommissioning arising, all it can do is to transfer the risk of having to pay to deal with it from the electricity company to the taxpayer – which is exactly what it did.

    Since the change, any Funded Decommissioning Programme agreed between Government and EDF can only be altered by mutual consent between the two. Perhaps I am just a cynic, but I suspect should this prove necessary, EDF will not provide mutual consent until the Government coughs up and pays for any additional costs, so leaving their profits intact.

    Therefore we cannot know whether or not EDF will meet its decommissioning costs and Mr Davey should be far more circumspect about claiming this is the case.

    A newspaper report from the time is here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/04/loophole-energy-bill-nuclear

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Oct '13 - 5:22pm

    tpfkar

    Perhaps they should (
    resign). But if any MP from any party who didn’t enact every pledge in their manifesto resigned, we’d have a lot of general elections. We’re not the only party guilty of this; and further as there is no Lib Dem majority government we can say that we have changed our view as our manifesto did not command the majority support of the people of Britain and we have listened to them.

    Sure, I myself have always been critical of the modern notion of manifestos as being detailed “five year plans”. I’ve also very much accepted and defended the reality that with just 57 LibDem MPs to 306 Tory MPs, there has to be give-and-take in the coalition, and the balance inevitably means most of the give is from the LibDems and most of the take is from the Tories. However, accepting that one can’t have all one’s own way as a junior coalition partner is not the same as just dropping what you previously said you believed – and got elected on – just because you no longer believe it rather than because you have had to give it up in negotiation.

    I accept that the reality of government must always mean a compromise between what is practical and what one had hoped to achieve, and also an adjustment if there is strong public disagreement with one’s original policies. However, if there is a continual process of throwing away what were key parts of the manifesto using the argument “we don’t agree with that any more”, the time has to come when it has gone so far that it is unfair to stay elected while no longer agreeing with what got one there. Note, as I said above, there’s a very big difference between “we don’t agree with it any more” and “we have had to compromise because we are in coalition”.

  • Thanks for the comments.
    Ed Wilson asked a number of questions. More detail on the deal can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/initial-agreement-reached-on-new-nuclear-power-station-at-hinkley
    I know there are concerns about what happens if there are cost overruns in the project. The answer is very clear – the consortium building the plant will bear the cost overruns – not the billpayer. EdF will not be paid anything by consumers until they start generating electricity.
    Gareth and Paul, I explain in the article why this is not public subsidy.Joe Otten helpfully provides the link to detail of the strike prices for other technologies which show that nuclear is at least as cheap. I have stuck to the party’s policy and to the coalition agreement.
    David and Keith, The costs of decommissioning and storage will be paid for by the company putting money into a decommissioning fund whilst it is generating the electricity. If the estimated costs increase the company will have to contribute more. The waste will be stored in the same way as the existing nuclear waste until a geological disposal facility(GDF) is ready. The waste generated by Hinkley Point C will only represent an addition of about 2-3% to the volume of waste which we will already have to store in the GDF.
    Duncan – we are using the carbon floor price trajectory as the estimate of the cost of carbon. This will, if anything, ltend to underestimate the true cost of carbon. The government is applying for state aid clearance for this as it is for all the EMR programme. According to EU rules market interventions such as this are required to apply for state aid clearance. ‘State aid’ according to EU rules does not necessarily mean public subsidy. As I argue in the article public subsidy is not present in this case.
    I know that this is a controversial issue for a substantial minority in the party. However in my view proceeding with Hinkley Point C is a necessary step if we are to decarbonise the UK’s energy..

  • What about the price you set for electricity? Surely, we, as a country, should be looking for a price which matches the current price of electricity.
    If we are relying on the company to provide electricity, then there may be political pressure to bail the company out if it fouls things up, in order to provide that power.

  • @Stephen W
    I take your point about the current price not being realistic for low carbon energy.
    Is the 89.50 price commensurate with the current nuclear price?
    How can we be sure that the taxpayer will not end up covering the cost if the private sector has overpromised?

  • Peter Watson 22nd Oct '13 - 8:51pm

    @Ed Davey
    Thank you for returning to the thread and responding to comments about your article. Some of your colleagues in the Commons seem to use LibDemVoice to talk at readers, posting an article and disappearing, and you are to be commended for using this site for proper communication.

  • A friend tells me that RWE have ceased consideration of any further expansion of their offshore wind farms because of the govts muddled messages on the future energy mix in this country

    So we can commit to overpriced nuclear, but not renewables?

    Looks like Ed has done to energy policy what he did to the post office – looks good in theory but the reality is somewhat different

  • Stephen W, “ALL LOW CARBON ENERGY IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN CURRENT ENERGY PRICES.”

    Point taken, up to a point. However – When apples are expensive this year, you don’t normally want to contract for 40 years’ supply at today’s prices. You buy shorter term, as you can with renewables.

    Besides, why is nuclear suddenly twice the price of fossil fuels, when those have gone up in price, while nuclear always used to be considered roughly price-competitive? Because the nuclear price reflects the large political risk that a Merkel or her UK equivalent will take fright and shut all your expensive plant at great cost to your enterprise. The solution to that is – State enterprise.

    It’s time to stop the absurd posturing, whereby any suggestion that the British state might engage in business is to be demonised as Communism, but when the Chinese state does it, it’s a magnificent example of free enterprise!

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Oct '13 - 12:15am

    People are misunderstanding this deal. The UK government won’t be buying anything from EDF – what we have done is in fact sold an insurance policy to EDF. This is a form of derivative, known as a put option, which is why it has been called a strike price. Only options have strike prices.

    If the wholesale price falls below the strike price then EDF will “strike” and exercise their option. At this point the UK government then has to make up the difference between the strike price and the wholesale price.

    If the wholesale price goes above the strike price then EDF will have have to refund the excess they are getting back to the UK Government.

    We should actually make money from this thing. We can wait for the cash flows to hopefully come in over the long-run, or we can sell it on the market and get some discounted cash flows immediately. Banks make billions of pounds from doing this. If this is priced correctly then Ed Davey has done a fantastic job, at least from a financial point of view, and it seems to have gone under the news radar, probably because journalists haven’t been able to understand it.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Oct '13 - 2:31am

    Following on from my comment above: we need to get an analyst to predict out how much this insurance policy will earn the country and report it to the media. We need to rectify the fact that the media have made out that we’ve thrown in a guarantee, rather than sold an insurance policy.

  • Duncan Brack 23rd Oct '13 - 4:38am

    Ed –

    ‘Duncan – we are using the carbon floor price trajectory as the estimate of the cost of carbon. ‘

    Thanks for responding. But since nuclear stations will not pay the carbon floor price in the first place, why are you increasing the strike price by the same amount? i.e. they’re benefiting from double the carbon floor price.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Oct '13 - 7:56am

    I am sorry I misunderstood the deal myself and what the government have in fact signed is a Contracts for Difference, known as a CFD. This has knocked my confidence a bit, so I’ll just say at the moment that I take back all praise over the deal.

  • Helen Dudden 25th Oct '13 - 7:57am

    I spent 45 minutes on the telephone to EDF, I have problems with my bill, I get charged a standing charge for gas I do not use. My bill is very high because of the lack of insulation. Nearly £100 a year I pay for the privilege of having a meter that is capped.

    Why the energy company’s were sold so that private sector could reap the rewards from, those who have the least ability to pay the high charges.

    It has been a roof over my head, compared with a home. This comes from the lack of suitable properties in the Bath area. We have suffered from petitions and objections for sometime. Even Don Foster, joined in.

    There are many out there like me, I fear there will deaths in the pensioner area like me, we don’t have endless supplies of money. Also, how about those with children, they need to be warm too, we all should have good heating.

    I do not approve of this type of energy production, I am very surprised your Party supports it too.

    A caring Party attitude?

  • well, the state agreeing to pay over the odds for units of nuclear fuel to be produced by a Franco-Chinese consortium in Somerset is probably the craziest thingthat this coalition has done. How has it come to this?

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