Hinkley Point C Timetable Hinges On Chinese Funding

Unions in Britain are urging the government to speed up the process for financing decisions required to green-light the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant construction project in Somerset in southwest England, but the build under discussions has taken a decidedly international flavor, as Chinese investors look to play an increasingly meaningful part in Britain's energy future.

The drama over the weekend began with Jean-Bernard Levy, chief executive officer of French utility giant saying in a Friday news conference that the timetable for Hinkley Point C project would be delayed due to financial considerations.

The news was billed as a slip. Levy was discussing the announced delay at the Flammanville nuclear plant construction project, when he unexpectedly said financing decisions had delayed progress at Hinkley Point C. Construction was still slated to take the same amount of time, he said, which meant Hinkley Point would not be up and running in 2023, which is already a setback from the original completion estimate of 2017.

A financial decision and a revised timetable would come in October, reports indicate. But a critical factor is said to be the London visit in October by Chinese Premier Xi Jin Ping.

On Sunday, British newspaper The Express said that Prime Minister David Cameron was “adamant” to get Hinkley Point C off the ground and was willing to sign a large minority portion of the project to Chinese companies in exchange for Chinese firms taking a majority stake in at least one future nuclear project expected in Britain -- a build expected in Bradwell, northeast of London.

Whitehall officers are said to be hammering out the final details of an agreement under which two of Beijing's state power companies - China General Nuclear and China National Nuclear Corporation – will take a large minority stake in Hinkley Point,” the newspaper said.

“They would also become junior partners, and cover part of the costs for a follow-on plant at Sizewell. The construction and operation of both sites would be led by EDF. In return for Beijiing's support on those plants, EDF would sell its rights to a development site it owns at Bradwell.”

The French firm would then help Chinese concerns negotiate regulatory challenges in Britain and become minority partners in the Bradwell construction project.

Hinkley Point C is slated to be the future of two European Pressurized Reactors each with a 1.6 gigawatt capacity. But discussions highlight the point that nuclear construction in Britain in a recent Nuclear Energy Association, International Energy Agency report is listed at $135.88 per Mwh, nearly three times as high as costs in China or South Korea.

Experts point to cheaper labor costs and the benefits of scale, given China is currently building 26 nuclear power plants. State-run nuclear power companies can also borrow at zero or very low interest rates. There is, subsequently, a call for Britain to re-nationalize its energy sector to allow for competitive pricing.  

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