Silver lining in Britain’s delayed approval of Chinese-funded nuclear power plant
Increased scrutiny and oversight by London of the Hinkley Point project only means that the scheme has met the highest standards
The high cost and worries about safety are bound to make nuclear power plants controversial. British Prime Minister Theresa May had the added concern of security with the Hinkley Point project, a joint venture between Chinese and French companies. Her giving the green light after almost two months of review was a sensible compromise. All involved have gained, particularly China, which now has a chance to promote its reactors to the West.
May stalled the reactor project, Britain’s first for two decades, on the eve of the contract signing and just weeks after becoming prime minister. Any number of the terms were cause for review, among them the US$24 billion cost that would mean a hefty hike in electricity charges and the lack of British involvement in funding and construction. But security chiefs were also irked about the participation of China General Nuclear Power Corporation, which was contributing a third of the money to build two reactors at the Somerset site and would get permission to build a plant to its own design at Bradwell in Essex and perhaps another at Sizewell in Suffolk.
Her approval last week gives the go-ahead on the condition that the French firm involved cannot sell its stake and the British government maintains a special share in future projects to ensure national security.
The right decision has been made; it confirms a pledge made by British leaders in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union that the nation would remain open to overseas trade and investment.
But perhaps most important was ensuring that China remained on board, with its investment in power projects and infrastructure like plans for high-speed rail being crucial to the British economy. China has been helped by the review; oversight and high standards are good selling points for its nuclear technology. Reactors are the best way for governments to attain climate change targets and Chinese firms are best placed to help them attain those goals. Hinkley Point offers an ideal opportunity for the companies to show their expertise.