EDF Energy and China General Nuclear Power Corporation have reached an agreement to build a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, Somerset. The plant at is expected to be generating electricity by 2025 and will power six million homes.
EDF Energy, which is mainly owned by the French government, said that the final cost of the project would be £18bn, with CGN paying £6bn for one third of it. EDF said that they are considering selling a further 15% stake in the project but will remain majority stakeholders.
The decision coincides with the state visit of the Chinese President, Xi Jingping, to the UK. During his four-day visit, more than £30 were announced.
The agreement also set up a wider development plan for reactors in Sizewell, Suffolk and Bradwell, Essex. The Bradwell project is also expected to include a Chinese-designed reactor.
However, the decision has been criticised. The government have guaranteed a price of £92.50 per megawatt hour of electricity – more than twice the current cost. Although this will represent a healthy profit for China it is expected that this increased cost will cause household bills to rise.
Opponents have also raised security concerns about giving China a central role in Britain’s nuclear future. The biggest worry is that the Chinese, who will be developing the software, could build off switches into the plant’s IT sysmtens, enabling them to stop production at any time.
Whilst feared by many, nuclear power has a number of environmental benefits. Nuclear power does not release any greenhouse gases; and a plant lifespan of up to 60 years make nuclear power a low-cost energy supply option.
It is still unclear where the nuclear waste created by the plant will be stored. The government had planned to store the waste underground in Cumbria but residents strongly objected these proposals.
At a time where the UK government is slashing renewable subsidises, the decision to build an expensive nuclear power plant seems odd. Previous planning applications for a wind farm on the Hinkley Point site were rejected, despite the fact that wind is the most efficient source of renewable energy.
Ecotricity, a green energy provider say that almost all of the UK electricity supply could be generated by renewables by 2030. This begs the question: why are we getting China involved at all?