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This Chinese nuclear deal is unsustainable and costly

NuclearHad Labour done it, the Tories would be screaming bloody murder. I am, of course, talking about the deal with the Chinese to build two nuclear power stations. If the Tories really were standing up for Britain, from a national security perspective it beggars belief that key national infrastructure be handed over to a power they would ordinarily be opposed to. But these are not ordinary times, and for Dave and Osborne, they are quite prepared to do anything to be China’s best friend in the West. 

On the nuclear deal itself, it’s absurd on two levels. First is on the nuts and bolts of nuclear energy generation. In recent years, governments of all stripes and “reformed” environmentalists have green washed nuclear. It’s reliable, they say. It’s carbon-free, they say. It’s sustainable, they say. On all three they’re plain wrong. Conventionally mined uranium has, depending on who you ask, has between 90 to 200 years worth of stocks left, assuming energy consumption stands still. Which it doesn’t. Of course, getting that stuff out of the ground on the first place, transporting it across oceans, and refining it to be reactor-ready is hardly an emissions-free process either. And sustainable? If you can sort out the supply and ensure they remain safe (pray for no more Fukushimas), there’s only so many places you can store spent fuel rods, irradiated water, and other by-products for the requisite 50,000 years or so.

Second is the taxpayer subsidy destined to end up in China’s bank accounts. 10 years from now, if all goes according to plan, the new Hinkley Point plant will come on stream at the cost of some £25bn. The largest inward investment ever, except the government is acting as guarantor of a fixed energy price. Regardless of what’s happening in the markets – you know, those very things Tories ordinarily bow and scrape toward – EDF, the French state company fronting for the Chinese, are guaranteed a floor price for their electricity regardless how low wholesale prices may plunge. In effect, the taxpayer is guaranteeing the investment. But it’s not a public subsidy, you understand. The government are very much opposed to those. Meanwhile the vast potential of wind and wave, particularly around the northern quarters of these isles, remain untapped.

Why is this happening? Uncharacteristically, the government have played this straight. They want to be China’s best buddy in the West. When their currency becomes fully convertible the Tories need the City of London to be the primary clearing house for capital flows. While London is ideally located between the stock markets of the East and North America, there isn’t an exchange in Europe who’d turn down the chance to be the preferred partner of the Chinese government. And, as we’ve noted before, it helps support a key prop of the Tory base. Naturally, there are many other investment opportunities in Britain for footloose Chinese capital. Osborne has already mentioned the HS2 debacle. Again, billions earmarked for a useless piece of infrastructure from government coffers is a guaranteed return for anyone investing in it. There will be plenty of other opportunities.

Politically, being the number one investment destination for China in the West will help the British economy grow – and if you’re a GDP fetishist like the Chancellor those numbers are the only ones that matter. It also allows for infrastructure spending to take place without blowing holes in his deficit and debt reduction schemes, and also allows Dave and successorto stride about the world stage as if Britain matters. We’ve sucked up to one global hegemon since 1945, so why shouldn’t we carry bags for the next one too?

This post first appeared at All That Is Solid


  1. James Martin says:

    There are problems with most energy sources. Oil, gas and coal are high carbon and limited supply. Shale would extend the life of fossil fuel, but has other problems (although I am not opposed to it on principle). That leaves renewables and nuclear. Renewables are for now limited by lack of viable generation storage options inbetween when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. Nuclear is low Co2 and statistically very safe, but there are difficult questions of spent fuel storage for future generations.

    On balance as low carbon I still favour nuclear but not the current Chinese option which is too expensive and too complicated. There is though a case for reverting to simpler, smaller, cheaper nuclear power stations, updated versions of what we used to build at a rate of one a year. This could all be done ‘in house’ by the government using affordable public funding investment.

    Either that or we support shale in a big way. Personally I would stick with atomic.

    1. rwendland says:

      To date 1% of all nuclear power plant reactors ever built have failed in a catastrophic way: 6 reactors, 1 at Three Miles Island USA, 1 at Chernobyl Soviet Union, and 4 reactors at Fukushima Japan. I think this historic failure rate does not support your contention “Nuclear is … statistically very safe”. While there have been few deaths, the amount of unusable land and disruption created is I think an unacceptable risk for our compact and relatively densely populated country.

      (The IAEA state there are 440 power reactors currently in operation, and adding the closed ones makes roughly 600 ever built. So 6 catastrophic failures is about 1%.)

  2. Bazza says:

    Solar also comes from light but perhaps the solution to climate change is mainly solar – harnessing the free energy of the sun.
    Of course in hotter climates they could have solar panel farms in desert areas; one genius from an NGO on a refugee camp in the Middle East noticed how the residents had electricity for 6 hours a day and had the brilliant idea of putting solar panels on their tents – they then had it all day & just think of the potential for poor counties with hot climates.
    Nuclear is costly, inefficient and as the author says will leave toxic waste for 50,000 years for future generations. We sweep this under the carpet.
    Of course Cameron and Osborne are welcoming Chinese capital – it will not count as public spending (like Gordon Brown’s PFI) but state-led public investment is equally capable of doing the job and offers more local returns.
    But capital is global and for example three quarters of Chinese exports are by foreign owned companies which shows how labour has to be international too.
    We need a radical UK Labour and we are getting there and the 200m rural Chinese workers exploited by their elite need to carefully & peacefully replace the CP with a democratic socialist China Labour.
    What we saw last week was a UK elite and a China elite acknowledging each other and greasing each others palms.
    We need democratic socialists in each country to be fighting for the same things, at the same time.
    Yours in solidarity!

  3. David Ellis says:

    Hinkley Point will be a giant dirty bomb built in England by a foreign power. I find it almost beyond credibility that the English are going to allow this but no doubt they will buckle under to a new Heathrow runway and the unneeded HS2 railway that will gouge out a huge scar in what remains of the green and pleasant. I’ve always thought any nation that is prepared to take the risk however small of rendering huge swathes of its territory uninhabitable for centuries to come deserves to perish and under these circumstances even more so. Tax credits are a vicious assault on the working class and if passed would represent a huge set back but this power plant represents an existential threat from which if it goes wrong there can be no return. Time to cut the lethargy and stop this fucked up project.

    1. James Martin says:

      ‘foreign power’ and ‘The English’ David? You really must stop pushing your reactionary English Democrat nonsense on here. What next, ‘English jobs for English workers’?

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