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.
Britain’s nuclear energy program supplies 21 percent of the country’s power and has been hyped by the country’s Conservative Party as a key component in the long-term plan to reduce carbon emissions. To pay for the plant, the previous government under David Cameron agreed to a subsidy program which would pass the cost of construction onto consumers, charging a premium for cheaper power.
The 18 billion project is projected to provide 25,000 jobs in its construction and 900 permanent positions once it is up and running. The huge facility could supply 7 percent of Britain’s projected energy needs over a 60-year timeframe. Given the current set-backs and that anticipated rate of construction, the plant would not begin generating energy in commercial quantities until 2025. Britain is in dire need of a long-term energy plan that conforms to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and its current infrastructure is dependent on coal-firing plants and older nuclear facilities scheduled for de-commissioning.
This post was published at Wolf Street on August 15, 2016.