Britain’s Nuclear Future Threatened By Espionage And The Brexit

The drama of Britain’s stalled nuclear facility at Hinkley Point C grew more Shakesperean this week, with the Chinese firm involved in its construction now under investigation in the United States for espionage.

It was announced on August 11 that the Chinese CGN firm and engineering advisor Szuhsiung Ho have been indicted on charges of industrial espionage in the United States. The charges relate to alleged attempts to steal nuclear secrets to aid the Chinese nuclear energy program.

The power plant at Hinkley Point, a joint UK-French-Chinese venture, has been at the center of an on-going debate in the UK over the future of the country’s energy infrastructure, its relations with China and its place in the world post-Brexit. It has also emerged as the first real test of Prime Minister Theresa May, who leads Britain in the aftermath of the vote to leave the EU last June. More broadly, the issue has drawn focus onto the expanding economic influence of China and the possible political consequences this might have world-wide.

In early August Prime Minister Theresa May requested more time to review the project, catching both French and Chinese firms by surprise. EDF, which has seen its earnings decline and is counting on the Hinkley Point project for its future plans, was placed in a more difficult position when the French government sided with labor unions and requested an additional review of the project. EDF is constructing the reactor to be used at Hinkley Point, a complex EPR-style reactor that is difficult to construct. Another EDF project at Flamanville is already years behind schedule.

The Chinese have cited a “gentleman’s agreement” made with the Cameron government over two future nuclear facilities to be constructed in Essex once Hinkley Point is completed. There is therefore evidence that China hopes the facility will act as a launch-pad for other projects in England and elsewhere.

With Britain’s post-Brexit course uncertain, some experts have urged caution, warning that the decision to go ahead with Hinkley Point could make Britain more reliant on China for its energy and trade. These concerns are growing world-wide as China enhances its global position and attempts to gain influence through investment projects. Wary of Chinese influence, Australia recently followed Britain’s example and cancelled a £6 billion deal leasing its energy grid to Chinese investors, citing “national security” concerns.

With political pressure mounting, it remains to be seen how May or the British government under her leadership will handle the debacle surrounding Hinkley. If the project were canceled it would be a further indication of how nuclear power is unlikely to provide the needed power to replace fossil fuels, a need which Great Britain in particular is vulnerable to, as its coal-fired and older nuclear power plants gradually shut down over the next decade.

Full article: Britain’s Nuclear Future Threatened By Espionage And The Brexit (OilPrice)

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