The Government may face a meltdown in relations with Beijing or the US depending on the energy choices it makes as it powers to a low carbon future. The end of 2019 marks yet another year that has passed since EDF boss Vincent de Rivaz ill-advisedly said that customers would be using electricity from the planned Hinkley Point C power plant to cook their Christmas turkeys by 2017. Two years on from that self-imposed deadline, the £21bn nuclear power station is still being built over a sprawling site in the Somerset countryside – while the very future of nuclear power in the UK is up for debate as other sources of energy snap at its heels and investment in the sector gets harder to find. A decision on a make-or-break new financing model for the industry is high on Boris Johnson’s new government’s priority list, with ministers under pressure from industry to make decisions quickly – or risk losing the chance to build new plants at a time when the UK needs all the low carbon energy sources it can get. Yet the decision about the financing models will be taken against a backdrop of wariness about the source of potential investments: state-backed China General Nuclear (CGN) is one of few investors willing to pour money into the risky nuclear sector – but the communist superpower’s involvement has brought political and security concerns as well as opposition from the US. CGN arrived in the UK through its partnership with EDF to develop Hinkley Point C as well as possibly Sizewell C in Suffolk, but are also seeking approval to build their own HPR 1000 reactor at Bradwell B in Essex – which it hopes to use as a stepping stone to the rest of the world. Approval from the UK’s highly-regarded nuclear safety standards authorities would be a boost as it looks for other global customers. China’s involvement in the UK nuclear industry has been beset by controversy, with Theresa May, the former prime minister, reversing George Osborne’s courting of China in 2016 when she ordered a review of China’s involvement in the UK’s nuclear industry, amid concerns about national security. China remains on a US blacklist which effectively prevents US companies from supplying CGN, in response to the conviction in the US in 2017 of a CGN worker for trying to steal sensitive information about US nuclear capabilities. Tensions between the nations are de-escalating with the first phase of a trade deal due to be signed on Jan 31, but analysts do not expect it to be the end of the row. The UK has been walking a delicate balancing act, but that is likely to reach a tipping point soon, with decisions on energy needed just as the UK seeks to reshape global alliances and trade deals after it leaves the EU on Jan 31, and is likely to seek trade deals with both the US and China. Backers of CGN and many in the nuclear industry believe any concerns are overblown, arguing that operating procedures would insulate plants from any undue influence and cybersecurity concerns. Aware of the sensitivities, CGN has suggested it does not need to operate Bradwell, the mooted power plant that would use its own reactor technology. Ministers are due to respond soon to a consultation opened in the summer on the potential new financing mechanism for nuclear power plants which will see consumers pay for nuclear power plants before they start producing, in an attempt to bring down the costs of financing.
Telegraph 5th Jan 2020 read more »