Sizewell’s decision casts doubt on CGN’s role together with EDF in the construction of Hinkley Point, South West England – Copyright AFP Hector RETAMAL
Britain on Tuesday expelled China General Nuclear from building its new Sizewell C power plant, further severing controversial economic ties with the world’s second-biggest economy.
CGN’s announcement came a day after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned that the “golden era” of UK-China relations was “over”, adding that Beijing posed a “systemic challenge” to the interests and UK securities.
Tuesday’s announcement also comes amid a diplomatic storm over the arrest and alleged assault of a BBC journalist covering the Covid protests in China.
Sunak’s conservative government is divesting CGN of its controversial 20 percent stake in Sizewell under plans to form a joint venture with remaining French partner EDF.
The UK will invest £700 million ($843 million) in the project, a figure that was matched by EDF.
Sizewell C, being developed on the Suffolk coast in eastern England, will power the equivalent of around six million homes for more than 50 years.
It is expected to start producing electricity from 2035.
– ‘Energy sovereignty’ –
Nuclear power and renewables such as offshore wind power are seen as key to boosting Britain’s energy security, after key producer Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent household gas and electricity bills skyrocketing.
Sizewell’s decision casts doubt on CGN’s role alongside EDF in building Hinkley Point, in south-west England, into Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in more than two decades.
London last month ordered a Chinese-owned company to divest most of Britain’s biggest semiconductor maker, a leading UK industrial asset, after a national security investigation.
And in 2020, Chinese telecoms giant Huawei was barred from rolling out Britain’s ultra-fast 5G broadband network, following US concerns about spying.
The “UK participation in Sizewell C is positioned at the heart of Britain’s new plan for energy sovereignty,” the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said in a statement on Tuesday.
The move “also allows China General Nuclear’s exit from the project, including purchase costs, any taxes owed and trade agreements,” it added.
The UK says Sizewell will provide energy that is cleaner than fossil fuels and will create 10,000 jobs for the local area and national economy.
However, Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr criticized the nuclear push.
“Various academic institutes have shown that we can have a 100 percent renewable system that would be cheaper than those based on fossil fuels or nuclear,” Parr said.
“And it has the added benefit of not creating millennia of concern about nuclear waste that future generations will end up dealing with.”
– ‘Essential’ UK support –
The news comes as EDF’s power plants in France have been affected by maintenance issues.
“The support of the UK government through its direct involvement… is essential” for Sizewell, EDF Energy chief executive Simone Rossi told AFP in an interview.
“This decision is a sign of confidence in the nuclear industry and in the French nuclear industry.”
Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said Sizewell would steer Britain “towards greater energy independence and away from the risks of reliance on volatile global energy markets for our supply.”
The UK has 15 nuclear reactors at eight sites, but many are nearing the end of their useful lives.
Sizewell comprises two power stations: Sizewell A, which opened in the 1960s and closed in 2006. Sizewell B, which opened in 1995, is still in operation.
Britain is turning to new plants too to help meet its long-term goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The government added on Tuesday that it would create Great British Nuclear, a body that oversees the development of more projects.
Britain also launched an official campaign this week to encourage less energy use amid supply risks.
The government is partly subsidizing household energy bills, which have driven UK inflation to a 41-year high, to cushion the cost-of-living crisis.