An influential member of the UK’s House of Lords has claimed that the Chinese government has secret plans to build two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point if a joint deal for the plant with France’s EDF falls through.
Lord Howell of Guildford (pictured), a former minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told the House of Lords that Chinese officials were actively discussing a ‘plan B’ if the existing plan led by EDF falls through.
It simply reflects normal, prudent good practice for any construction project to know that the money would be available in the case of more extreme scenario– EDF statement
Newspaper The Daily Mail reports that Lord Howell addressed a fellow peer, asking: "Is my noble friend aware that the Chinese also have a plan B, which is to bypass EDF altogether and to build two smaller reactors on the Hinkley C site, and to do it rather quicker than the present Hinkley C plans?"
He later told another newspaper, The Times, that he had previously had private meetings with Chinese delegations, and said: "This is the view of informed think tanks and a deduction of the way they must be thinking."
His statement came as fresh doubts were raised over the hugely expensive scheme yesterday, when EDF announced a 15% contingency cost on top of the nominal £18bn ($26bn) projected cost, which media interpreted as a hike in the expected cost to £20.7bn. EDF maintained that it did not expect to have to use the contingency amount.
"It simply reflects normal, prudent good practice for any construction project to know that the money would be available in the case of more extreme scenarios," the French company said in a statement.
In October 2015 EDF struck a deal with state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) which sees EDF taking a 66.5% share in the new Hinkley Point C pair of reactors, and CGN taking a 33.5% share.
But indebted EDF has been in turmoil over the scheme, with some on its board of directors vehemently opposing it because of the financial risk involved. An overdue final investment decision has been postponed multiple times. Last month the decision was delayed again, this time until the summer.
The French energy giant has also admitted that the project would not be finished before 2027, which is a decade later than was originally proposed.
Photograph: Lord Howell while Foreign Office Minister in 2012 (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)