China tensions raise doubts over UK nuclear projects. Flushed with their success at changing UK government policy towards Huawei, rebel Conservative MPs are now turning their attention to a proposed Chinese project to build a nuclear power station at Bradwell-on-Sea in the south-east of England. In their sights is an agreement forged by the government of David Cameron, that would allow the Chinese nuclear group CGN to build its own nuclear plant in return for backing two giant French-led nuclear projects in Britain. The first of those French projects — a plant at Hinkley Point in the south west of England that could cost £22.5bn — is well under way and CGN has already pumped billions into the scheme. “There are an awful lot of Tory MPs who will use their summer break to get their heads around the CGN situation,” said one person close to the rebel MPs. “Bradwell will be the focus of attention.” Just as with the decision to remove telecoms company Huawei from Britain’s 5G mobile phone networks by 2027, they are being encouraged by a US administration vocal in its opposition to China’s involvement in Britain’s nuclear programme. In 2018, the US assistant secretary for international security and non-proliferation, Christopher Ashley Ford, warned the UK against partnering with the company, saying Washington had evidence it was taking civilian technology and converting it to military uses. CGN declined to comment. The senior Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith has called for a review of nuclear contracts on the grounds that China is not a “trusted vendor”, and has likened Britain’s commercial dealings with Beijing to 1930s appeasement. The closer scrutiny of China’s role in Britain’s nuclear programme comes at a crucial moment. The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has said that the country might need 38 per cent of its power from non-weather-dependent sources to help achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. Supporters of nuclear say it is the only proven technology capable of delivering that target. “Nuclear economics are very sensitive to the cost of capital, and the RAB or an equivalent funding mechanism would cut this dramatically,” said Tim Stone, chairman of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association. “Direct funding by the state with interest rates so low would cut it a great deal more.” “The big question is: if CGN were chucked out of Bradwell, whether they would walk from Hinkley,” said Stephen Thomas, emeritus professor of energy policy at University of Greenwich. “They are contractually obliged but good luck suing the Chinese government.” Aside from the financing questions, this could potentially increase the construction risk at Hinkley. “The Chinese have an engineering role in the project,” said one nuclear expert. “It would be a blow if they took away that know-how.” Ministers are yet to deliver their verdict on the RAB funding model and have continuously delayed a white paper on energy, originally expected last year, and which nuclear industry executives hope will emerge in October.
FT 6th Aug 2020 read more »