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Is a China ban from UK nuclear power too little, too late?

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Hinkley Point C Construction
The UK could soon see up to seven new nuclear power plants, like the one under construction at Hinkley Point C. Image credit: EDF

In this week’s Gossage Gossip, our columnist discusses whether the UK’s recent ban on China’s involvement in nuclear power came a little too late.

It has become clear that, for national security reasons safeguarding the electricity system, the Government has decided to minimise the amount of direct Chinese involvement in new nuclear construction. While China was originally welcomed with open arms, the idea now is to kick the Chinese out from their projected 40% funding of Sizewell C, and block entirely the concept of a 100% Chinese reactor at Bradwell B. But might this be a case of shutting the stable doors well after the horses have bolted?

For instance, it seems that the special constabulary force who police Britain’s 10 civil nuclear sites do so using surveillance cameras produced by a Chinese state-backed firm called Hikvision. This firm has been sanctioned under export and investment restrictions by the US government and is implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Due to the sensitivity of their work, unlike regular British police forces, frontline officers may be routinely armed. But it won’t stop their every move being monitored by the camera manufacturers.

A major worry regarding Sizewell C is reliable accessibility to copious amounts of cooling water, a growing problem in dry East Anglia. The local supplier, Essex and Suffolk Water, are statutorily bound to provide water on demand to all households – but has no such obligations for non-residential establishments. All they can offer is ‘best endeavours’ to supply. And who owns this water company? Step forward Li-Ka Shing. His company, CK Group, also owns UK Power Networks, just about the largest electricity distribution company in Britain. 

Li-Ka Shing happens to be not just one of the richest men in China, but also an industrialist known to be very close to President Xi. Prospective constructor Electricité de France has been instructed to cost out just how much more heavy dependence upon desalination of North Sea water will add to their overheads, already upwards of £21 billion.

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