The last time Britain got cold feet over China’s nuclear power ambitions, it nearly caused a diplomatic incident. In July 2016, as dignitaries were en route from Beijing and Paris for a signing ceremony at Hinkley Point on the Somerset coast, then prime minister Theresa May announced a surprise review of China’s role in building the nuclear power station. It took two months, security concessions and a golden share deal before May reluctantly agreed to allow China and France to proceed with the £18bn project, Britain’s first new nuclear power station in a generation. An uneasy peace followed. Hinkley Point C is years late and its budget has risen to £22.5bn, but its hulking form continues to rise slowly, fuelled with cash from France’s EDF and China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN), which own two-thirds and a third respectively. CGN intends to install a version of its HPR1000 nuclear reactor at Bradwell and be two-thirds owner, with EDF the junior partner. With a seal of approval from the UK — home of the strictest nuclear regulators — China can then sell the reactor round the world. The design of the HPR1000 is being pored over by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and cyber-security officials. Approval is edging closer — probably late next year. That makes Bradwell an intensely political decision. Letting China bankroll Hinkley is one thing; putting its reactors 40 miles east of London quite another. If Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network caused a storm, this will be a hurricane. Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said last month that Sizewell would be “the next Huawei”. Sceptical Tory MPs have formed the China Research Group to scrutinise the communist state, heaping pressure on Boris Johnson to review Huawei’s role. Having rolled out the red carpet for CGN — encouraging it to spend £3.5bn so far — ministers risk embarrassing China for a second time, either by overruling the nuclear watchdog or delaying final approval for Bradwell. Beijing has made its thinking clear. In a meeting with business minister Nadhim Zahawi last month, Zheng Dongshan, CGN’s UK chief executive, is understood to have demanded clarity on its involvement in the UK’s nuclear power programme, warning that financial support for Hinkley may be at risk — particularly if, as expected, the plant’s budget balloons further. CGN is also considering investing in Sizewell only at the planning stage, and then switching focus to getting its reactor regulated.
Times 7th June 2020 read more »