Nick Butler: How growing conflict with China could impact UK nuclear power. Given the tension between the two countries, the UK is unlikely to give China access to its nuclear energy. But a trade dispute would affect us more than them. The deterioration of relations between London and Beijing now threatens to derail the development of nuclear power in the UK and force a rethink of Britain’s energy policy. China’s links to the UK’s nuclear ambitions are likely to be drawn into conflict over the next few months. Given the divisions which have emerged, it is impossible to envisage the UK government now giving approval to the development of the Bradwell power station. The reason, of course, has nothing to do with the technology or the competence of China General Nuclear Power Group (the Chinese company involved). Having successfully commissioned dozens of nuclear plants in the last decade, China has become a leading player in the global nuclear power business. The problem is that nuclear power stations are part of the UK’s strategic national infrastructure, and China is no longer a friend to be trusted with such levers of power. China’s recent behaviour has compounded the doubts which already existed around the wisdom of giving it control of nuclear capacity and open access to the UK’s national grid. China, however, would with some justification regard the postponement or cancellation of the Bradwell project as a breach of contract. If China decides that the link with EDF to finance a third of the costs of Hinkley and contribute to other French-led projects was conditional on Bradwell, CGNP could end its involvement and demand its money back. For the UK government, the question is whether a new generation of nuclear power is as necessary as it seemed a decade ago. Financing challenges, rising costs and endless delays have all made nuclear less attractive, while the costs of alternative sources of supply such as offshore wind have fallen sharply. With the exception of the hope that the smaller scale modular reactors being developed by Rolls-Royce can provide some additional capacity in the 2030s and beyond, nuclear power is barely mentioned in the government’s recent statements on its plans for reducing the use of hydrocarbons and cutting emissions. For the immediate future, given that Hinkley is still the only new reactor under construction in the UK, everything depends on the reliability of the existing nuclear plants—most of which have been in operation since the 1980s.
Prospect 10th April 2021 read more »