UK nuclear power targets in doubt after Hitachi pulls out
Some politicians oppose Chinese involvement on security grounds
30 Sep 2020 | Michael Marray

Analysts are assessing the impact of Hitachi’s decision to pull out of a nuclear power plant project in Wales on the prospects for Chinese involvement in nuclear power generation in the United Kingdom.

At present relations between the UK and China are at a low point, but with the UK aiming to maintain a 20% nuclear power generation mix as old reactors are shut down, there is a need for foreign investment.

In June, after Huawei was largely excluded from building the UK 5G network, Chinese officials said that it could impact their plans to participate in building nuclear power plants in Britain. At the same time, some UK politicians have suggested that Chinese involvement in the domestic nuclear industry should be blocked on security grounds.

Hitachi said on September 16 that it is pulling out of a nuclear power plant project in Anglesey, Wales, citing a worsening investment environment. The project had already been suspended for 20 months as Hitachi tried to negotiate the funding arrangement with the UK government.

The 3GW Anglesey plant would have been enough to supply around 6% percent of Britain’s electricity needs, but the estimated cost had risen sharply from the original 16 billion pounds (US$20.57 billion).

The UK currently has one nuclear power plant under construction, Hinkley Point C in Somerset, southwestern England. Completion is expected in 2025. The project is being led by Electricite de France, using its Framatome reactor design, and has China General Nuclear Power as a 33% equity partner.

Currently at the planning stage, Sizewell C in Suffolk on the east coast of England is being planned as an almost identical replica of Hinkley Point C. It is also led by EDF, with CGN expected to come in with an equity stake. Sizewell C has held four formal stages of public consultation between 2012 and 2019, including with local communities in East Suffolk.

The planning application for the 3.2GW project was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in June. In July,  32 companies and organizations from across the country, including some of the biggest firms supporting clean energy, have come together to urge the government to give the major infrastructure project the green light.

The Sizewell C consortium includes Assystem, Atkins, Balfour Beatty Bailey, Bilfinger, Cavendish Nuclear, Doosan Babcock, EDF, Jacobs, Laing O’Rourke, Mott MacDonald, Mace, and a host of smaller businesses. It is also backed by some of the country’s biggest trade unions including the GMB, the Unite Union and Prospect.

But Member of Parliament Ian Duncan Smith, who was once leader of the Conservative Party, has led calls to block Chinese involvement in the project.

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