Andy Blowers considers whether the ‘golden relationship’ with China might be a Trojan Horse in the BANNG Column for Regional Life March 2019.
The state visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping, in October 2015 proclaimed the beginning of a ‘golden era’ in Sino-British relations. The deal was sealed with the promise that China would be offered the opportunity to construct a new nuclear power station at Bradwell with a state-owned company, CGN, using its own technology. In return the Chinese would provide the lion’s share (two-thirds) of investment in the project, with its partner the French state backed-company EDF finding the rest.
The jubilation of the Cameron Government turned to scepticism when his successor’s Joint Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, declared, ‘The Government is selling our national security to China’. Fears that a critical part of sensitive infrastructure could be open to control by a potentially hostile power have continued to cloud the project. The fact that China, like the UK, is a military as well as civil nuclear power makes the issue of security and control especially worrying.
Bradwell B – a Trojan Horse?
Concerns about security threats are not without foundation. There is the broad charge that China plays by its own rules and the United States has long claimed that China has stolen American atomic secrets. Recently there have been concerns in the United States and other countries about the merger of state and commercial interests implied by Chinese technology giant Huawei’s capability to engage in cyber espionage. In the UK the enthusiasm for the Government for commercial partnership with China (as in the Bradwell deal) is matched by the deep suspicion of the security experts who, according to Nick Timothy, believe the intelligence services of China continue to work against UK interests at home and abroad.
‘No license may be issued to an alien or any corporation or other entity if the Commission knows or has reason to believe it is owned, controlled, or dominated by an alien, a foreign corporation, or a foreign government’.
Statement US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Section 103 of the Atomic Energy Act 1954
Fears of Chinese infiltration in national security have led the United States to ban foreign ownership or control of nuclear power plants (see Box). No such injunction has been proclaimed in the UK; rather, at this very moment, the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation is deeply engaged in the process which may lead to approval for the Chinese Hualong One reactor design, thereby paving the way for overseas expansion of Chinese nuclear technology and the inevitable proliferation of security concerns. Bradwell B could be the Trojan Horse that leads into the heart of our national security.
A matter of trust
These concerns have deepened since the heady days of the ‘golden relationship’. China’s aggressive development of the Belt and Road initiative crossing Asia and Europe signals its intention of trading dominance. This is backed at a military level by its attempt to assert control in the south China seas. As the Secretary of State for Defence observed, the UK must keep its ‘eyes wide open’ to the threat. His somewhat hubristic response was to propose the deployment of our aircraft carrier to patrol the Pacific region.
While this pathetic sabre rattling fools no-one, it seems to confirm that the ‘golden relationship’ is shifting from partnership to domination. The UK is pretty desperate for Chinese investment, the more so now when Brexit requires us to look for close trading relationships. China and the USA are presently engaged in a trade war which could inhibit the UK’s prospects for trade and investment with either country. The question is whether the UK is already so locked in that it cannot unlock the potential security risks posed by a potentially hostile state with its hands on sensitive national infrastructure.
Predictably the risk is played down. Zheng Dongshan, Chief Executive of the UK subsidiary of CGN has said: ‘We understand the political and local sensitivities…..we know we must take time to show the public, the Government, they can trust us’. The company stresses it is not wedded to necessarily operating the station when built. It puts faith into close regulation by the UK and argues that the station will not be vulnerable to interference from the internet.
A cuckoo in the nest
These views were echoed during a recent visit to the Bradwell site. The company recognises that trust must be built and already public relations are being geared up through publicity and investment in small local projects. There is an emphasis on the positives claimed for the project such as jobs, skills and investment.
In all this there is no hint of the significant downsides which include years of disruption, noise and environmental destruction followed by decades of operating a potentially dangerous and vulnerable facility within a few miles of a large population and with half a million people within a twenty mile radius. And, nothing is said at all about what will be a deteriorating nuclear complex with stores of highly radioactive nuclear wastes strewn on a disappearing coast for the indefinite future. And will the Chinese still be around when the risks increase?
The Chinese are intent on accelerating the Bradwell B programme to begin construction before the end of the next decade. That is a tall order but they have the resources and apparent determination. But, the risks to national and local security and safety from a nuclear power station constructed and controlled by a foreign power cannot easily be allayed. Despite all the soothing words and promises of energy security, Bradwell B, if it materialises, may be a dangerous and unpredictable cuckoo in the nest.