The delayed Hinkley Point nuclear power station project in Somerset, UK, may have received a much needed boost after it was reported that the Chinese were waiting by the sidelines to take over the nuclear project if the French deal does not go ahead. EDF, which runs the project, had said on 12 May that the project's price could increase from £18bn to £21bn ($26-$30bn; €22.9-€26.7bn).
It also cautioned that the project would not be completed before 2027 —ten years later than initially scheduled. The proposed two nuclear reactors are expected to supply around 7% of the UK's electricity demand.
EDF recently said that it would make a final decision on the plant in September following several delays to the project. In April this year, French Energy Minister, Segolene Royal, said that the project was still up for discussion, raising fears that the French government may ask EDF to stop the project.
The French state owns 86% of EDF and therefore would have the final say. EDF, which has debts of £30bn, is already under financial pressure and with the Hickley project, it will take on two-thirds of the cost of the venture.
There are now concerns that EDF may hand over the nuclear site to another developer. Lord Howell of Guildford, the former energy secretary under the late Margaret Thatcher and George Osborne's father-in-law, told the House of Lords that the Chinese government was drawing secret plans to build two nuclear reactors at Hinkley point if the existing deal with EDF does not go ahead.
He claims that the Chinese government has a 'plan B' to bypass EDF. China believe that it can build its own reactors faster compared to that proposed by EDF, The Times reported.
Lord Howell told the Times that he asked the question after private meetings with Chinese delegations. "This is the view of informed think tanks and a deduction of the way they must be thinking." he said.
According to The Times, a Department of Energy spokesman however has denied this. "There is no proposal for the Chinese to build a reactor at Hinkley."
The Guardian reported that China's state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation has already committed to take a third stake in the new reactors proposed by EDF at Hinkley Point. It has also outlined its own plans to construct a new plant at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex. The newspaper also noted that China has never publicly said that it would be willing to take over the full Hinkley project. There are also other issues — its Hualong designs are not licensed in the UK.
However, the newspaper did say that China could take over the French European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) designs that were produced by EDF's partner, Areva. These designs have already been approved for the UK.
There are concerns that Chinese nuclear plants could post a threat to national security. The Times said that there are fears that technological "trapdoors" or "backdoors" could be put into the nuclear plant's computer systems giving Beijing the ability to bypass British security.