Monday 23 September 2013

The press coverage on what looks like DECC’s (and Ed Davey’s) attempts to attract, (“woo” in the words of the Sunday Times), Chinese firms into the UK nuclear industry highlights one of the many signs of desperation in UK energy policy.  EDF is also seeking Chinese involvement in Hinkley Point but apparently China General Nuclear Power Group want some operational control for their 50% stake, (probably not unreasonable from an investor’s point of view!).


I have nothing against China and of course the growth in the Chinese economy, as well as their technology development, over the last thirty years has been incredible.  I accept that the world is generally better off through globalization but we really should think seriously about encouraging Chinese involvement in nuclear power on three grounds.


Firstly there is a cost to importing the technology – but that of course also applies to French nuclear technology or any other energy technology from abroad (almost all of it now).  Secondly there are security risks – we have seen concerns raised about Chinese firm Hauwei supplying technology to the telecoms sector – what are the risks of Chinese involvement at the heart of our nuclear plants – part of the Critical National Infrastructure? Finally there should be legitimate quality control concerns.  Although there have been no examples of large-scale failures in the Chinese nuclear sector (that we know about) there have been accidents and concerns have been raised.  In 2011/12 there were reports of problems in the China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) and safety lapses at the China Institute of Atomic Energy.  A former state nuclear physicist, He Zuoxio, has claimed that a Chinese nuclear disaster is “highly probable” by 2030.  Also we have seen a number of problems in Chinese products and technology including high-speed trains, the Chinese cabinet criticized the railway industry for lax safety standards after the Wenzou train crash in 2011, and milk – in 2008 the milk scandal had a reported 300,000 victims.


Nuclear power requires the highest levels of safety, 24 hours a day. 7 weeks a year for decade after decade.  Of course, we also have train crashes and accidents here – all technology wherever it comes from is risky wherever you are – but we do need to assess all of the risks and all of the costs of all energy options fully.

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Dr Steven Fawkes

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