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Chinese Seek Greater Say In UK Nuclear Plants 148

Posted by samzenpus
from the who's-paying-the-bill dept.
mdsolar writes in with news about negotiations between the Chinese and the UK over nuclear power plant investments. "The state-owned Chinese nuclear group that is in talks to invest in Britain's new nuclear program wants greater operational control of any new plants it finances, potentially creating a national security headache for the government. China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), is in talks with EDF of France on sharing the cost of building a new plant at Hinkley Point, Somerset, which has an estimated price tag of £14bn. But CGN has made it clear to EDF that it will only proceed if it is given more of a say in running other plants the two companies build together in the UK, according to people familiar with the talks."
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Chinese Seek Greater Say In UK Nuclear Plants

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  • by hawkinspeter (831501) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:12AM (#44738043)
    So, it has come to this.
    • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:32AM (#44738139)

      Does the UK get any say?

      It's a time-honored tradition that the developing country gets screwed by the rich foreign investors. ;-) So no, that would be ridiculous and unprecedented.

      • As a London resident, I wish foreign companies had more of a say in the development and maintenance of UK infrastructures. Maybe then the transformer in the street below my apartment would not have spontaneously combusted and exploded some days ago. Anyway they had apparently already abandoned the control of their nuclear plants to the French. How much worse can it possibly get?
        • Given the closeness of France and the prevailing wind direction I suspect the French wouldn't like a reactor in Britain to go bang.

          I wouldn't trust the tiddlies with a firecracker.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          You have to understand the British politician's mentality when it comes to foreign ownership and control. As long as there are "safeguards" of some kind, like an ineffective and puny regulator or a written promise not to be evil, everything is fine. In the short term some people in the City make loads of money and by the time it all goes wrong you will have long since retired to a nice board-level position in the industry and a maybe peerage on the side.

      • by mspohr (589790)

        Interesting to see that now the tables are reversed and the UK is now being exploited by Imperial China.

    • by infolation (840436) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:37AM (#44738171)

      China does have a fair point here, and that's speaking as a UK citizen, and not trying to play the devil's advocate. The UK has had a history of terrible management in pseudo-private sector enterprises since the 1960s, from British Leyland to British Rail.

      Nuclear power in the UK has, so far, been a loss-making enterprise, kept afloat only by government subsidies, and looks set to continue in this way. If I was any overseas investor looking to protect my money, China included, I'd want to make damn sure my investment wasn't just being used to reduce the UK's subsidy.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:49AM (#44738213)

        What reason exactly would China want to have control? To reduce costs, of course. There is no other reason. And this will logically lead to limiting the government's oversight ability. The UK would be fucking idiots if they agreed to this. It would be like letting the US set the safety standards for drilling in the North Sea because Exxon was financing a rig. Fuck that!

        • by sjames (1099)

          I'll just stand over here on the U.S. East coast praying for West winds. I do not want to be covered in radioactive melamine.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:54AM (#44738243)

        Do you still want no say in operation when safety measure are cut to protect your 'investment'? Why is Chinese government* even allowed to operate a nuclear plant in the UK?

        *Don't fool yourself, every Chinese corporation is a branch of the CCP. And this is not a 'racist' rant against China, I consider American corporation to also be a branch of the U.S. government. Ask Edward Snowden about it.

        • Do you still want no say in operation when safety measure are cut to protect your 'investment'?

          I would like people with some understanding of the job at hand to have a say. However, the vast vast majority has _no_ understanding of this stuff, react to what the papers/environmentalists/whoever say, and their voices drown out those who know what they're talking about. So my only conclusion is that no, maybe the public shouldn't have a say - it should be down to the experts. The trick there, unfortunately, is how to ensure that decisions are made by neutral experts rather than people with a vested fi

      • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:58AM (#44738269) Homepage

        yes. many people are unaware of the fact that these major power plants - coal, gas, oil, nuclear - are only efficient when they are at maximum capacity. if you shut them off for any reason (and this can be done fairly quickly), getting them back up to temperature can take *weeks*.

        so any investor is going to want guarantees that the power plant in which they're to be investing billions will provide a guaranteed return on investment. even in cases where there's complete catastrophic failure [hey, what's insurance for, huh?]

        btw as an off-topic aside, the reason why wind power is a failure even before it becomes popular [which it won't] is because its power provision is completely arbitrary. in fact, it's not very well-known but the wind systems in scotland where i used to live were heavily subsidised. the UK Govt pays them 25 thousand pounds A MONTH to NOT run them. in fact, as they're motors as well as generators, when it's not windy enough, from what i hear they're actually POWERED to make them LOOK like they're generating electricity, so that people don't wonder why they're not running.

        wind turbines. only operational at between 8m/sec (about 24mph) and 24m/sec (about 70mph). below that there's not enough wind to make them turn. above that they're dangerous (one blew up in wind-speeds of 150mph last year - made a great photo in the local scottish paper). and yet people insist on commissioning wind-turbines based on a 100% operational capacity.

        • by Bongo (13261)

          I have fun watching http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk, especially how the gas dial jumps up and down trying to follow the wind.

        • by malacandrian (2145016) on Monday September 02, 2013 @11:02AM (#44738691)

          yes. many people are unaware of the fact that these major power plants - coal, gas, oil, nuclear - are only efficient when they are at maximum capacity. if you shut them off for any reason (and this can be done fairly quickly), getting them back up to temperature can take *weeks*.

          Actually, gas can be spun up in less than an hour. A lot of coal/oil plants have gas turbines on them that run during start-up for this very reason. Nuclear, on the other hand, basically can't be turned off. It's why your electricity is cheaper at night: stops the network becoming unstable from too much generation with no draw.

          in fact, it's not very well-known but the wind systems in scotland where i used to live were heavily subsidised. the UK Govt pays them 25 thousand pounds A MONTH to NOT run them.

          Strictly speaking the national grid, an independent private company who you would be perfectly free to set up a competitor to, pays them not to run. This is not unique to wind power, as balancing the load/generation across the network often requires plants of all varieties to be shut down at which point the plant owner is paid some proportion of the profits they would have expected to gain from running the plant to get them to turn it off.

          in fact, as they're motors as well as generators, when it's not windy enough, from what i hear they're actually POWERED to make them LOOK like they're generating electricity, so that people don't wonder why they're not running.

          That was a plot line from the sitcom "Twenty Twelve", not reality.

          • Nuclear, on the other hand, basically can't be turned off.

            You can insert the control rods which will pretty quickly reduce or stop the fission. Of course you still have decay heat (iirc about 10%) so the plant isn't going to be completely "off" but it's certainly going to be producing a lot less than before you inserted them.

            Of course just because you can turn something off doesn't mean you want to. The fuel is a pretty minor part of the cost of running a nuclear plant. So once you have paid for all those construction costs and paid for the salaries of those runni

            • by sjames (1099)

              The issue for nuclear is actually that you can't bring it back up for some time once you reduce power without the risk of unstable operation. After a full shutdown it will be 24 to 48 hours before you can bring it back up. The issue is build up of reaction poisons known as an "Iodine pit" [wikipedia.org]. In theory you can burn past it, but in practice, that can give you a Chernobyl.

              • It is worth mentioning that this issue is exclusive to solid fuel reactors. With fluid fuel, the problematic gasses just bubble out, and require no special attention. There are no safety issues with rapidly cycling a LFTR or other molten salt reactor. In practice, they will only be limited by how fast the turbine can spin up and down, and the reaction will follow suit.

        • yes. many people are unaware of the fact that these major power plants - coal, gas, oil, nuclear - are only efficient when they are at maximum capacity. if you shut them off for any reason (and this can be done fairly quickly), getting them back up to temperature can take *weeks*.

          While I agree that operating base load plants such as nukes at max capacity is best; a nuke startup from cold shutdown to 100% can be done in a few days or less.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          from what i hear they're actually POWERED to make them LOOK like they're generating electricity

          That was a plot from a TV sitcom. You have discredited your entire argument by proving your ignorance of the facts.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Wind power needs a good storage buffer, but that's rarely included.

      • by amiga3D (567632)

        How in hell does a power generation facility lose money? Is that even possible? You generate power and sell it at a rate that guarantees a profit. Where is the risk?

        • What happens if you can't sell electricity at a high enough rate to pay back your investment?

          • by amiga3D (567632)

            It's a monopoly. You just raise the rate. It's done all the time. Power companies are the safest investment ever. They don't make incredible profit but it's super stable.

            • by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Monday September 02, 2013 @10:33AM (#44738497) Journal
              You must be thinking of a different country. We're talking about the UK here.

              There are generating companies, retailing companies and consumers. There is some overlap. There is no monopoly here. Cartel - maybe.
            • It's a monopoly. You just raise the rate.

              Even a monopoly can't force you to buy. People will switch to alternative sources. They'll make their own. Where neither of those is feasible they'll be very frugal. In the last resort, the people can change the government.

              In short, it's not guaranteed that at any price the monopolist sets the market demand will be sufficient for it to make a profit.

              • by mbkennel (97636)

                "In short, it's not guaranteed that at any price the monopolist sets the market demand will be sufficient for it to make a profit."

                True there still a demand curve with a monopoly, but the profitability (and pain to the buyers) is susbstantially above a competitive market .
        • by 91degrees (207121)
          Building a nuclear power plant is expensive. It takes several days to go from zero power to full power, and to shut down. Electricity can't exactly be put in a warehouse. And even at reduced power the staffinf costs are the same

          Nuclear plants provide base load. They keep running and sell electricity at whatever the going rate is.
          • by Joce640k (829181)

            Electricity can't exactly be put in a warehouse.

            Sure it can.

            (you can pump water uphill, etc., during the periods of low demand...)

        • The really simplified answer is that they're very expensive to build, very expensive to knock down and ONR, the UK nuclear regulator, requires the plant operator to set aside some of the money they make to cover the knocking down costs.

          In addition, most nuclear plants don't operate for their full life expectancy, so their turnover often doesn't cover the cost of building and decommissioning.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          EDF were demanding guaranteed pricing even if the price of other forms of electricity became cheaper than nuclear and suddenly they were unable to sell their full capacity. It seems that they are anticipating renewables pricing them out of the market, which isn't unrealistic if Scotland reaches its 2020 goal.

          I imagine the Chinese angle is that they want the ability to reduce costs in order to increase profits. That should be sounding alarm bells, but unfortunately what most politicians will be hearing is "i

      • by iserlohn (49556) on Monday September 02, 2013 @10:26AM (#44738459) Homepage

        To specifically address your first point, State run Chinese enterprises in the 1960s weren't doing much better. Many state run Chinese firms today still require state subsidies to operate.

        What's more concerning is the current climate in which everything has to be privatised. There are some areas where the free-market performs sufficiently worse than than a controlled economy. Privatisation of rail in the UK, for example, privatised profits while the state still needs to subsidise the infrastructure. I'm sure if the current trends continue, this is exactly what's going to happen with the NHS. In the end, the public gets shafted.

        • by Bongo (13261)

          Oh don't start me on the trains. I used to moan in disgust at the cost of train fares, only to add shock to insult when I heard the price would be double without subsidy. Private my arse.

      • by oobayly (1056050)

        According to the BBC [bbc.co.uk], the income would need to be twice the current price per megawatt-hour (£45/MWhr), so whoever runs it, it probably won't be cost effective.

        Today, electricity sells on the wholesale market for about £45 per megawatt-hour (MwH). But anything under £90 a MwH would see Hinkley lose money

        Don't get me wrong, I think we need some kind of reliable power production capability and I think nuclear meets that criteria without having to rely on fossil fuels. We just have to keep Australia on side for the fuel.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        People thought British Rail was badly managed, but now they have seen just how poorly private companies run the system and how much they charge for using it that view has been re-evaluated.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    All your power plants are belong to us ... belong to CN !!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bow down to your... fuck off China you'll only ever be given "cosmetic" control of such a vital asset, that applies to however much money you pour in.

    • You think ?
      The UK was and is more than happy to give its vital infrastructure to outside interests, which seems a little odd. Meanwhile in Ireland Wind farms are being built not for the Irish Market but to sell to the UK.

      So here we have two countries where electricity production is an asset to one country and a liability to the other.
      which is the better course of action?

    • by N1AK (864906)
      Tough words there keyboard warrior, I bet the Chinese are running in fear after that...

      We can limit Chinese, or any other country's, influence or control over whatever we want and we'll pay a price for doing so. How much money are we really willing to spend, as a premium, to avoid Chinese involvement? Do we put all Chinese hardware and software on a banned list for British government or government contractors?

      We've got American nuclear bombs on UK soil alongside American controls means to deploy them.
      • We've got American nuclear bombs on UK soil alongside American controls means to deploy them. Do we really trust them that much more given the crap they get up to these days? Including spying on us and the rest of the EU?

        Trust Americans to what, not nuke somebody you don't want to nuke? Whatever you think of ill conceived foreign ventures (in which the UK has generally been a partner, for reasons that escape me), nukes aren't likely.

        As for spying, don't get sanctimonious. Ever hear of ECHELON. not to mention more recent revelations?

        Without animosity though, I'll say that if you don't want US nukes on your soil, complain to your government. Tell them to act like a sovereign country. New Zealand did, and I haven't heard of an

        • by AHuxley (892839)
          Re New Zealand did, and I haven't heard of any US-NZ war.
          Punishment was swift in the form of no more pure NSA sigint. The other part of that was a hint that the US would become active in intelligence work in NZ as more punishment.
          • by Kalriath (849904)

            Bullshit. NZ is a member of Five Eyes and has just as much access as the US. Not that this is a good thing.

            Now, NZ was excluded for quite some time from joint military activities, and to this day isn't allowed to berth warships (hah!) at Pearl Harbour during the few we're allowed to attend...

            • by AHuxley (892839)
              If your interested in the NZ part read up on the David Lange papers.
              http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10363782 [nzherald.co.nz]
              "US would no longer feel any inhibition in conducting intelligence gathering operations against us. [NZ]""
              UN diplomatic communications, Argentine naval intelligence, Egypt, Japan, the Philippines, Pacific Island nations, France, Vietnam, the Soviets, North Korea, East Germany, Laotia and South Africa are also listed.
              Loss of "Joint military activities" was the pub
      • by russotto (537200)

        We can limit Chinese, or any other country's, influence or control over whatever we want and we'll pay a price for doing so. How much money are we really willing to spend, as a premium, to avoid Chinese involvement?

        When it comes to nuclear plants on your own soil, I suggest "whatever it takes".

  • Devious (Score:5, Funny)

    by oobayly (1056050) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:32AM (#44738141)

    So, China pretend to integrate themselves into the international community, then they want a say in how Hinkley Point "C" runs, then they start a meltdown which makes the surrounding area uninhabitable. The UK economy crumbles due to the loss of Cheddar, Somerset Cider and Glastonbury hippies doing face-painting. The Chinese buy up the rest of the UK, but due to their lack of economic know-how forget that the UK can't buy the stuff they produce, so they put down the whole episode as a bad learning experience.

    The worst bit, I'm left drinking Suffolk cider and eating Wensleydale. I'm happy about the lack of face-painting facilities though.

    • The UK economy crumbles due to the loss of Cheddar [and} Somerset Cider

      Don't be silly, that would imply the UK actually made something these days, These days we offer services

      Glastonbury hippies doing face-painting

      That's the thing, and "silicon roundabout" and "financial services".

      (disclaimer) I work as an engineer in the UK so no need to shout at me

      • by jimicus (737525)

        Don't be silly, that would imply the UK actually made something these days, These days we offer services

        We do. Like the GP said, Cheddar and Cider.

        Strangely, it seems our best cheese - and for that matter cider - is made by people who have a proud tradition - stretching back many generations - of marrying their cousins.

  • Yes, I RTFA and they are nigh devoid of requisite detail.

    No doubt there would be legitimate concerns if "greater operational control" meant something like "allow us to perform Chernobyl-like experiments with the reactor".

    However, my guess is that they are demanding this control to protect their £billion investment. Nuclear power plant operators always have a political sword of Damocles over their heads. If anything, it is in their interest to operate safely to avoid having their license revoked and th

    • by dbIII (701233) on Monday September 02, 2013 @10:08AM (#44738339)
      If you don't want Chernobyl-like experiments or TEPCO lies then the regulators need more teeth. Threats about revoking licences are theoretical and have not happened after any of the incidents to date, and they'll need to be more than theoretical if there's no chance of losing government money that is flowing in (which has been the real threat to date to keep the places honest).
  • Well shit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:44AM (#44738191)
    You lose control when you insist on not paying for your shit.
    • by amiga3D (567632)

      Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too. I can't blame the Chinese here, if I was buying the plant I'd want to run it too.

  • In what political universe do they imagine the people of the UK would be interested in giving operational control of a nuclear reactor in Somerset to a foreign government, esp. one they don't particularly trust?
    • by JanneM (7445) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:56AM (#44738257) Homepage

      In what political universe do they imagine the people of the UK would be interested in giving operational control of a nuclear reactor in Somerset to a foreign government,

      In the kind of universe where the one who pays for something also gets a say in it. But of course, the UK is free to pick up the tab in their stead and pony up the needed investment.

    • You're talking about the French, right?

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      I would have assumed that the MOD police would be the control for this I assume they have doomsday scenario plans for various outcomes if it came to it disabling rogue/insane controllers with a 9mm pill woudl be one option.
  • Are they worried that the Chinese will get the plans of reactor technology thirty years older than what they already have? The UK stopped building nuclear power stations when Thatcher was in charge.
  • EPR's produce 1650 MWe, so this plant will produce 3.3 GWp. The price is put at "£14bn", that's 21.8 bU$, or about 6.6 USD a watt. And that's at *an existing site*. New sites would be much more expensive due to paperwork delays.

    Clearly the nuclear renaissance estimates of $4.6 are too low, as this is the cheapest plant I've seen recently and it's still over $6. Darlington B was $8.25 (at least), Vogtle 3&4 are around $7.25, and Crystal River 6 came in around $11.

    For those new to this, the price of

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday September 02, 2013 @10:05AM (#44738315)
    Ah the Chinese .... Britain's oldest allies .

    Brought to you by the John Kerry school of political history.
    • by Bongo (13261)

      I'm sure the Chinese and Prince Philip feel practically the same family.

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        I'm sure the Chinese and Prince Philip feel practically the same family.

        Good point - after all he's a Greek who married into a German family with a lot of influence in the UK...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 02, 2013 @10:11AM (#44738365)

    I assume a lot of the kerfuffle is the Chinese investor wanting to have a say over how engineering, procurement, and construction is sourced--specifically they would want a good portion of the investment in services and jobs to go to China.

  • Invest in offshore wind power and water power.

    It might sound silly, but it is much more cost effective than nuclear power.
    Look at how much damage the Fukushima has already cost TEPCO and the Japanese government.
    And it is not over yet: Fukushima's Radioactive Plume Could Reach U.S. Waters By 2014 [huffingtonpost.com]
    Everybody get are "fair" share.
    Just one of these accidents every twenty years and it is goodbye turnover.

  • No mention in the summary of the massive subsidies the British tax payer would have to pay to build maintain and close these costly Chinese made disasters waiting to happen.

    Nuclear power: leaks show new EU push | Environment | The ... [google.com]

  • potentially creating a national security headache for the government.

    The Chinese, having been unable to deliver nuclear weapons via ICBMs, have now cleared that hurdle --- place the nuclear weapons within the sovereign state of the enemy with a remote control capability to blow it up at any time. What more could China ask for?

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      do you realize how very low the yield of a nuclear explosion from a reactor is? My textbook "Nuclear Engineering - Theory and Technology of Commercial Nuclear Power, 2nd Edition" gives an answer for typical civilian reactor on page 157, about 0.25 kiloton. Meanwhile, the Chinese have five megaton thermonuclear weapons on their ICBM. Conclusion, your posited scenario is silly in the extreme.

  • In the US, nuclear power is shrinking in generation and fraction of overall generation. Early retirement announcements of five rectors and cancellation of five power uprates recently are basically attributable to market reforms that caused nuclear power to compete and lose against other energy sources. http://slashdot.org/journal/496141/is-indian-point-next-to-close [slashdot.org] Most of Europe is exiting nuclear power with even France beginning to have reservations. So really only command-and-control economic systems
  • Some seem's

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