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Bad karma hits UK nuclear power plans after China kicked out

OOPS. BAD KARMA HAS HIT the UK’s nuclear power plans after the Brits kicked out their Chinese partners.

The action left the country’s nuclear hopes (now extremely late and over-budget) in the hands of a French company—which announced that it has run out of money for it.

To make matters worse, the Chinese have built 37 nuclear reactors in the past decade, while Britain is struggling to finish one.


First, the breaking news. Last week, French builder EDF said the switch on date for the first of the Hinkley Point’s two reactors would be delayed to after 2027, or perhaps as late as 2031. The original switch on date, rather unrealistic, was 2017.

And the construction price, originally £16 billion in 2012, will be more than £40 billion.

French plant-builder EDF is struggling financially, so cannot fulfil its side of the contract, and is calling for more money. Britain is saying no—the contract says EDF has to pay for cost over-runs.

In the meantime, the other plant under construction, Sizewell C,  also needs money. On Monday last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak put £1.3 billion of taxpayer cash into it, but much more will be needed. No one dares to ask the Chinese.


Quick history: Originally, the folk from China Nuclear Group were happily working with the French on two nuclear power plants for the UK, Sizewell C and Hinkley Point.

But then the usual right wing group of anti-China campaigners (yes, Ian Duncan Smith, Tom Tugendhat, Benedict Rogers, Chris Patten, etc) turned up their “demonize the Chinese” operation to maximum, supported by a uniformly Sinophobic UK media.

For entirely political reasons, the Chinese were kicked out of Sizewell C. Luckily, they had negotiated a tight contract, so had to be paid £100 million to leave the site.

The Chinese still have a 33% stake in the sister operation at Hinkley Point, but after they were treated so badly at the other plant, no one dares to ask them for more money.

That leaves the other builder, a French company called EDF, to finance the building project. But EDF can’t afford it, and the British are sticking by their contract, which says EDF has to cover over-budget expenses.

Meanwhile, at the now Chinese-free Sizewell plant, the overrun problem is repeated. That project again needs to find billions of pounds to continue building, and the first bit of electricity from it is not expected until after 2040.

Awkwardly, these nuclear plants are key to the plan for Britain to cut its carbon emissions by 2030. How will they contribute if they can’t be switched on by that date?


The Chinese, meanwhile, are continuing to build new nuclear power plants, and trying different models. While China is struggling to close down its coal operations, it does take clean energy investment seriously.

There are fears that the UK’s nuclear plant construction efforts are going so slowly that other power generation technologies (modular reactors, wind farms, enhanced solar power collectors) will make them seem old-fashioned even before they are finished.

The Chinese, as is their habit, have chosen not to complain about the way they were treated, nor have they gloated about the problems. Instead they are working hard.

Out of the 61 nuclear power plants in construction around the world, 26 (more than 40%) are in China alone.

The Chinese way seems to be to let karma deal with the injustice they have faced. And at the moment, at least, she seems to be doing a good job.

Image at the top by EDF.

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