Energy

China Cries ‘China-Phobia’ After Brits Block Nuclear Plant Deal

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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A columnist for a Chinese state-run media outlet called Britain’s reluctance to approve a nuclear power project a result of “China-phobia.”

Chinese columnist Zhu Junqing slammed British Prime Minister Theresa May for delaying the approval of the Hinkley Point nuclear power project — one third of which will be paid for by the state-owned China General Nuclear Power. May’s decision came after U.S. officials charged CGNP with espionage.

“London’s misgivings over Chinese involvement in its key infrastructure is yet another stroke of China-phobia,” Zhu, a columnist at the official state press agency  Xinhua, wrote in an editorial.

“It is impossible and commercially suicidal for the Chinese side to manipulate the project at its own will,” Zhu wrote. “After divorcing the EU, Britain would be foolish to decline stronger trade ties with China.”

May wrote to Chinese leadership earlier this week saying she “looks forward to strengthening cooperation with China on trade and business and on global issues” and assured China its money is still welcomed in Britain, Chinese officials who received the letter told Reuters.

May has considered canceling the Hinkley Point nuclear plant due to its high costs and environmentalist opposition before the Chinese company behind the project was charged with nuclear espionage by the U.S. government in August. The project is backed by French power company Électricité de France (EDF) as well as state-controlled Chinese companies.

China’s ambassador to Great Britain issued an ultimatum over the delay earlier in August, pointing out Chinese companies have invested more in the U.K. over the past five years than in France, Germany and Italy combined. British exports to China have grown 57 percent since 2010, and China is expected to be Britain’s second-largest foreign investor by 2020.

EDF agreed in July to build the Hinkley Point nuclear reactors by 2025 after years of delays. If the reactors aren’t built, U.K. taxpayers could be on the hook for $31.6 billion, according to documents released by the government. EDF is still planning to build the reactors, despite the company’s serious financial problems and the fact that the project is below investment grade.

EDF previously delayed making a decision several times about whether or not to build the nuclear plant before finally approving it after already investing $2.85 billion. EDF is more than $40 billion in debt and has a history of abandoning or delaying similar reactors in France.

Environmental groups are infuriated by the company’s decision and the fact that the British government hasn’t wholly denounced the project. Greenpeace called the Hinkley Point reactors “a suicidal project for EDF,” and announcing that the company “shoots [itself] in the foot” by not investing in wind and solar power instead.

The plant has been subject to intense opposition by environmentalist members of the British Parliament, even though EDF passed the government’s environmental review process in 2012. Nuclear power is on the decline in Britain, and the country has started decommissioning reactors to comply with environmentalist pressures.

The proposed nuclear plant would include two new European Pressurized Reactors that generate 3,200 megawatts of electricity. This type of reactor has a long history of cost overruns, delays, bad management and legal difficulties. However, the proposed reactors could supply up to 7 percent of the U.K.’s electricity and the government claims they are essential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

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