The great China dilemma, Sunday Times 24 May 2020

Caught between two superpowers, Britain faces difficult decisions on everything from nuclear power to medicine.

John Collingridge, The Sunday Times. Read online

On the picturesque Suffolk coast, a battle is intensifying that will help define Britain’s relationship with China. In one corner is a group of celebrities and locals, including the Love Actually actor Bill Nighy, and Andy Wood, chief executive of Adnams brewery in Southwold. In the other are two nuclear power giants, Electricité de France (EDF) and China General Nuclear (CGN). China and France want to build Sizewell C, a nuclear power station capable of supplying 7% of the UK’s electricity.

The Stop Sizewell C campaigners share one concern with some politicians, notably the hard right of the Conservative Party: why is Britain relying on China to supply its electricity? “China is adept at cyber-attacks,” said Alison Downes of Stop Sizewell C. “I would doubt whether there could be a 100% cast-iron guarantee that operating systems were immune to that. Even if you set aside security concerns, you’ve got real vulnerabilities with a government that is prepared to use economic sanctions.”

Sizewell is just a part of the communist state’s Belt and Road initiative to dominate the world with cash, technology and influence. It plans to use the UK as a showcase for its nuclear technology, with state-owned CGN providing 20% of the funds for Sizewell. China is also helping bankroll the delayed and over-budget Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset.

However, the bigger prize lies on the Essex coast at Bradwell. There, 40 miles east of London, CGN wants to install its homegrown HPR1000 nuclear reactors. CGN will be the two-thirds owner of the Bradwell plant, EDF the junior partner. EDF and CGN claim that the power stations will be impervious to cyber attack.

China’s ambition and its multibillion- pound investments — Hinkley alone will cost up to £22.5bn — are starting to look questionable.

Read online