The planning application by EDF and CGN for the Sizewell C plant has unleashed fresh questions over whether Britain needs more large nuclear plants, and stirred controversy about China’s role in critical UK infrastructure as diplomatic relations between the two countries cool, notably over Hong Kong. It also comes at a time when the government is focused on pumping money into infrastructure, including energy, potentially as part of an economic stimulus package that chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to unveil in July in response to the coronavirus crisis. Several Conservative MPs with a sceptical stance on Beijing have drawn comparisons between CGN’s involvement in the UK’s nuclear sector and the controversy over the role of Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei in supplying kit for Britain’s 5G mobile phone networks. “It is a really important decision: do we want to regain the ability to build our own nuclear power stations … or are we happy to get supply from friendly third countries, or are we happy for anyone to control it?” said Tory MP Neil O’Brien. “I’ve not ever heard anybody serious or credible suggesting that there’s any way you’re going to get to net zero . . . without nuclear being part of it,” said Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, a trade body. Environmentalists insist cheaper, green technologies such as wind, solar and batteries should take precedence over nuclear. There is also growing interest among policymakers in small reactors — dubbed “mini nukes” — under development by companies including Britain’s Rolls-Royce. “Nuclear just isn’t cost-effective,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist for campaign group Greenpeace. Nuclear industry leaders privately admit there are doubts over the regulated asset base model, given reactors are much riskier than other infrastructure that has been financed in this way.“One wonders — and presumably the Treasury is wondering — whether passing the burden of risk to energy consumers labouring under post-Brexit and Covid conditions may or may not be acceptable,” said Paul Dorfman, research associate at University College London’s energy institute. Nuclear industry executives said if the government wants more large nuclear plants, it may have to take significant equity stakes in projects.
FT 2nd June 2020 read more »