Author: Zheng Yujie, Director of Information and Communications Department
Editor’s Note: On September 15, 2016, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project was finally approved by the British government. This is an important step for China's nuclear power enterprises to enter the developed countries’ markets. Yet for China's nuclear power, the real significance lies with the Bradwell nuclear power project.
On September 15, 2016, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project was finally approved by the British government after striking one snag after another. The project which was planned with a joint investment of 18 billion pounds from EDF and China General Nuclear (CGN) will meet 7% of UK’s electricity demand in the next 60 years. This is an important step for China's nuclear power enterprises to enter the developed countries’ markets.
Yet for China's nuclear power, the real significance lies with the Bradwell nuclear power project, one of the three major nuclear power projects achieved during President Xi’s visit to Britain in 2015. The project is not only planned by the Chinese enterprise-led investment, but also will use China’s own nuclear power technology “Hualong No.1”. Whether Bradwell project is able to proceed on schedule is of great significance for the “Hualong No.1” to successfully get a foothold in the international nuclear power market.
British electric power industry has faced great challenges in recent years due to outdated facilities, inadequate supply, unreasonable price and high carbon emission, etc. As of 2016, nuclear power plants have produced 21% of electricity in Britain. Nearly half of the 15 power units in the currently running 8 nuclear power plants will be phased out by 2025. The UK was still an energy net exporter in 1999, while in 2013, 43% of its energy was imported. What makes it worse is that the imported energy is not up to the standard of low carbon energy.
There has been a debate in Britain about Hinckley Point C. Supporters hold that it is a must for Britain as the nuclear power plant can not only ease the tension on electricity, but more importantly, will also create large numbers of jobs, attract huge foreign investment, bring billions of pounds of the contracts given the current economic downturn and the uncertainties after Brexit. It will show that the Britain is still open and cooperative. Yet the opponents’ concern is centered on finance and costs. The investment for the Hinckley Point C power station is up to 180 billion pounds, while its construction length has been extended again and again and its operation date has been extended to the year of 2025.
The involvement of Chinese capital was not the main reason that the Hinckley Point C nuclear power plant was suspended for nearly two months. In fact, after the British Prime Minister Theresa May took office, the construction of three large-scale infrastructure projects, Hinckley Point C Nuclear Power Station, High Speed 2 and Expansion of Heathrow Airport, were suspended for review at the same time and then they have been approved to be continued on September 15, October 12 and October 25 respectively. It can be expected that in the post-Brexit era, the British government will take a more pragmatic attitude to Sino-British economic and trade relations.
CGN has formally submitted to The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) its plan for the Bradwell project which is going through a process called Generic Design Assessment (GDA). ONR once said in a public document that Bradwell is very important for UK’s energy industry and that CGN is in a very favorable position in the GDA process. It also noted that as an independent regulatory body, ONR is able to ensure the safety and effectiveness of any nuclear power project in UK. Once CGN’s plan is approved by ONR, it means that China's nuclear power technology is officially recognized by the British government.
China's nuclear power has great opportunities in the international market as it strives to gain greater overseas presence. According to the latest estimates, there will be 488 nuclear power units built by 2030 across the world and power units in the countries along the Belt and Road will reach nearly 100 units. Hualong No.1 is expected to account for a market share of 20% to 30%. One Hualong No.1 alone is able to drive exports worth of 30 billion yuan. The international market size for Hualong No.1 may be as much as 3 trillion yuan.
China's nuclear power technology is faced with a real test. Bradwell is of huge significance for the Chinese nuclear power going global. Should the Bradwell project move forward smoothly, China's nuclear power would not only play a bigger role in the UK energy sector, but also lay a solid foundation for the Chinese nuclear power to gain a foothold in the vast international market.