Posted: 11th May 2022
Johnson’s grand nuclear plans already lie in tatters. Ties with China risk scuppering existing proposals for plants, let alone future ones. Well, that didn’t take long. Even by the Prime Minister’s woefully poor standards, a “strategy” that survived all of about four weeks really is a new low. But after little more than a month, the Government’s plan to place nuclear power at the heart of the UK’s new energy strategy has already fallen apart. Boris Johnson is great at grand announcements. It’s what he does best: bold, ambitious plans unveiled with vim and vigour but almost completely devoid of detail. However, the speed with which his nuclear dreams have unravelled is a stark reminder that this Cabinet is big on bombastic rhetoric but painfully lacking in substance. Great British Nuclear would be launched to oversee a dramatic expansion of the UK’s nuclear capacity: 24 gigawatts by 2050, equivalent to another six Hinkley Point Cs, each costing £20bn and collectively providing 25pc of the country’s electricity. This would come from eight
new reactors, built on existing sites, with one approved each year until 2030, it declared. China General Nuclear faces being booted out of Britain’s nuclear programme. This will leave holes in it everywhere, such is the extent of the Chinese state’s involvement. Bradwell in Essex will be the first to bite the dust. Under a nuclear collaboration deal struck between president Xi Jinping and David Cameron’s Government in 2015, China agreed to help develop a new generation of plants, starting with Hinkley Point C in Somerset and Sizewell C in Suffolk, both as a minority partner to France’s EDF. But the quid pro quo was that CGN would be allowed to build and operate a third plant in Bradwell using its own untested technology. That always seemed like a high-stakes gamble. But which minister would give their backing to such an agreement now, as tensions intensify between the West
and Beijing over national security, China’s crackdown in Hong Kong, and more recently its position over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? The Government could probably get away with allowing CGN to continue building Hinkley Point C alongside EDF given how long the pair have been toiling away on the project, even if their collaboration has been fairly disastrous. Britain’s first new nuclear plant in three decades will soon be nine years overdue and £7bn over budget. Proposed for completion in 2017, it won’t be ready until 2026 at the earliest, while build costs have rocketed from £16bn to £23bn. But ministers could at least claim that a change to the construction pairing this late in the day risks further setbacks. Ministers may even have been able to argue that CGN should continue as a junior partner to EDF on Sizewell C, even though the £20bn plant is still at the development stage. But providing a fifth of the funds for one site definitely isn’t the same as allowing a company backed by China’s communist party to build a nuclear plant 50 miles from London using an unproven Chinese reactor. In the end, political opposition could kill China’s involvement entirely. CGN’s participation in Bradwell is utterly fanciful in the current climate. But without Chinese financing, EDF is warning that the project could collapse. Ministers are determined to eject the Chinese from Sizewell too, which EDF fears could prompt CGN to walk out on Hinkley Point C, puncturing a multi-billion hole in the funding that the French state would be reluctant to fill.
Telegraph 10th May 2022