Intelligent Energy

China Syndrome: Chinese companies bid for UK nuclear plants

China Syndrome: Chinese companies bid for UK nuclear plants

Posting in Energy

Conjecture that China could help build the nuclear plants that Prime Minister Cameron desperately wants has moved closer to reality, with Chinese companies vying for two giant stations.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Premier Wen Jiabao during Wen's visit last year to London, when the two leaders discussed business ties.

Toot! Toot!

That's the sound of SmartPlanet blowing its horn.

Last March we postulated that the UK might want to bring in China to help it build a few new nuclear reactors. We cited conjecture from London-based policy institute Charter House.

Who else, we wondered, would have the money and the will power, following the withdrawal of German joint venture Horizon, which was to have built two of the eight nuclear power stations on Prime Minster David Cameron's wish list?

Guess what? A Chinese rescue has now moved closer to reality.

Reuters is reporting that not only one, but two Chinese nuclear companies are bidding to pick up where Horizon left off and build over 6 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in Wales and England.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp. and China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. (SNPTC) have joined separate bids with western companies Areva and Westinghouse. As Reuters wrote over the weekend:

French nuclear group Areva will make a joint bid with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation Holding (CGNPC) for the UK's 6-gigawatt Horizon project, its chief executive Luc Oursel said on Saturday.

"We will participate in the British government's plan to make this project a reality, and we will probably do it with Chinese power companies and other players," Oursel said on the sidelines of a conference in Aix-en-Provence, southern France.

"Probably by the end of the year, the sellers will make public their choice for the team that will take over the project," Oursel told reporters.

Reuters reported on June 18 that Westinghouse teamed up with SNPTC to make a bid, while Areva picked China Guangdong to put forward a bid.

The Horizon nuclear project is one of the UK's biggest nuclear projects and was put up for sale in March by German utilities RWE and E.ON, who have come under pressure from Germany's decision to phase out all nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident.

If only the government and the bidders would put forth plans to build reactors based on alternative nuclear technologies, like thorium. That would really mark a progressive step towards a CO2-free energy source.

There's no saying they won't - China has ambitious plans for thorium and other alternative reactors. And thorium is gaining western mindshare, as we and Baroness Bryony Worthington of Britain's House of Lords note today at a steel mill in the southern U.S.

But something tells me these bids will come in as conventional uranium-fueled, water-cooled reactor projects. That would mark a missed opportunity to head nuclear in a safer and more cost-effective direction.

Photo: Zimbio

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure