Nuclear energy faces an uncertain future globally as concerns over safety and cost dog the industry. But in the UK, foreign investors are queueing up to back projects. The latest is South Korea. Its biggest power company is in talks to join the consortium backing a nuclear power station in Cumbria, in a sign of the continuing allure of Britain’s atomic ambitions to international companies. Kepco said last week it was interested in taking a stake in NuGen, which is 60% owned by Japan’s Toshiba and 40% by France’s Engie, confirming what had been an open secret in the industry for months. Kepco’s president, Cho Hwan-eik, said that once the terms of a potential deal were ironed out, “we will be the first to jump into the race”. The idea of a Seoul-based company developing the Moorside plant near Sellafield is not as strange as it might seem. The UK government needs new nuclear power stations to meet greenhouse-gas reduction targets and keep the lights on as ageing coal and atomic plants are retired. This month, officials reiterated how important nuclear will be to Britain’s future energy security, with projections that showed 38% of power coming from nuclear by 2035, up from 24% last year. Potential investors have been drawn by the UK government’s enthusiasm and a nuclear standstill elsewhere, amid lingering safety fears in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and cost overruns at the Flamanville site in France which is using a new reactor design. As a result, South Korea has joined Japan, China and France in showing interest in British nuclear. Mycle Schneider, called the UK the “last hope” for the nuclear construction giants of the world. The Paris-based nuclear consultant said: “In Korea the political situation will dramatically change after the upcoming elections, [probably] not in favour of the nuclear industry. Success overseas will help survival at home. The Japanese industry clearly has no future at home and little prospects abroad [because of Fukushima].” Another lure for foreign companies is the prestige of having their reactor design pass the UK’s strict regulatory and licensing process. Antony Froggatt, a nuclear expert at the thinktank Chatham House, said: “It gives you that important status for getting orders elsewhere.” That is particularly true of the Chinese state-owned company, which is providing a third of the money for Hinkley and whose design for a reactor at Bradwell, Essex is expected to complete the UK regulatory process in 2021. “It would be important because it would be first time that reactor type was built outside China, so having it approved by the UK regulator would be significant,” said Atherton.
Observer 25th March 2017 read more »