Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Nuclear deal with China needs more than whispers

Letters sent to the Independent on 5 August:

The Energy Secretary Amber Rudd needs to come clean with the British people on the wider implications of the forthcoming nuclear reactor deal with Chinese State Investment Bank and the Chinese nuclear companies: the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN) (“Ministers poised to sign £25bn Hinkley contract,” 5 August,

We know the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and DECC ministers all deem China excellent partners to develop new nuclear in the UK. But not all departments have such sanguine assessments of China’s Political governance. Here is part of what the latest Foreign Office annual human rights report, released in March this year, says of China, in its section ‘countries of concern’:

Of principal concern were detentions of human rights defenders (HRDs) for the peaceful expression of their views. These continued as part of an ongoing clampdown on freedom of expression, association and assembly. There were particular spikes in detentions, including in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the clearance of the Tiananmen Square protests; and the Hong Kong protest movements, which began in September. Suppression of ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang also continued…. it is believed that China executes the largest number of people in the world. It retains 55 capital offences, including for non-violent and economic crimes.”

Here is what one top Chinese official, Wang Yiren, vice-chairman of the China Atomic Energy Authority, said in 2013 in remarks at the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century, held in St Petersburg.

“The fear and panic associated with nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster seem to have dissipated. Countries are now taking a more objective and rational approach toward nuclear energy… Over the past four years, nuclear energy development across the world has experienced many twists and turns. But the situation has greatly changed.”

Some might say in respect of Fukushima at least, that is a somewhat premature evaluation.
Just before  chancellor George Osborne visited Beijing In October 2013 to discuss nuclear financing, the South China Morning Post (7 Oct. 2013) revealed that Chinese nuclear industry veteran Li Yulun,  a former vice-president of CNNC had claimed that company and its United States technology partner Westinghouse should be more transparent about how mainland reactors would be built according to the most advanced safety standards, arguing "Our state leaders have put a high priority on [nuclear safety] but companies executing projects do not seem to have the same level of understanding."

Worse still, last year the French Nuclear Safety Authority, (L'Autorité de sûreté nucléaire ASN) complained publicly about the lack of communication with their Chinese counterparts over joint venture  nuclear reactor projects.

As Professor Tom Burke of Imperial College London astutely points out:” Not only are we selling 35 years of index linked tax receipts to the French government in return for electricity at twice the price we are currently paying for it but we are also placing the security of our future electricity supply into the hands of China's ‘overwhelmed' nuclear regulators.”


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