Security fears over 'Orwellian' Chinese nuclear deal

George Osborne with Chinese nuclear workers in Taishan

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It was hailed by UK Chancellor George Osborne as a "new dawn" - but serious questions remain about the security implications of Britain's nuclear energy deal with China.

The UK government has refused to say whether China's planned investment in the British nuclear industry was approved by the National Security Council - the body that assess the risks from foreign investment in critical national infrastructure projects.

Chancellor George Osborne announced during his trip to China in October that Chinese state owned companies CGN and CNNC would be allowed to take a 40% stake in the company planning to build the Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset.

In the future Chinese firms could become "majority owners of a British nuclear power plant subject to British safety rules and policed by the British," said Mr Osborne.

Tim Yeo, chairman of Parliament's energy and climate change committee, said Britain should "warmly welcome investment from China in the nuclear industry" but said he did not know whether the National Security Council had formally discussed or approved the investment.

The World Tonight

  • Listen to Rob Broomby's full report on BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight

"It would be a great pity if on some security reason this was thrown back into jeopardy." he told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight.

But other members of Mr Yeo's committee are worried.

Conservative MP Dr Phillip Lee said it was "perverse" and "Orwellian" to allow Chinese state owned firms a role in critical infrastructure projects like nuclear power at a time when questions over Chinese cyber-attacks on the west had not been resolved.

He said future conflicts would not be about the "physical possession of nations" but would involve "control of information, control of infrastructure, water electricity and communication."

Military links

The Chinese could not take away a nuclear power station in the event of tension between the two countries but they could "virtually switch it off" if they wanted to, he claimed.

It would also bind Britain's hands in respect of China diplomatically, when it comes to speaking out on human rights.

On the website of the China National Nuclear Corporation - one of the companies connected to the Hinkley project - the company boasts openly of its military links.

"China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is the large state-owned enterprise under the direct management of the central government. Historically, CNNC successfully developed the atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb and nuclear submarines and built the first nuclear plant in the main land of China. CNNC is the main body of the national nuclear technology industry, the core of the national strategic nuclear deterrence".

The company website says it "shoulders the dual historical responsibility for building the national defence force, increasing the value of state assets and developing the society."

Hinkley Point C Hinkley Point C is set to take 10 years to become fully operational. It will be made up of two nuclear reactors and will be built next to Hinkley Point A and B.
Sea wall at Hinkley Point C The land will need to be flattened and then the sea wall will be built. After this, excavation work can start to lay the foundations of the nuclear plant including two underground two-mile (3km) tunnels for the cooling water.
Turbine hall The building of the two reactors will be staggered with the first reactor expected to be operational by 2023.
Turbine hall The other aspects of the build include the turbine halls, standby power generators and a pumping station for the cooling water, interim waste storage facilities as well as a visitors' centre.
Workers' campus (artist impression) Workers' accommodation will be built across three sites, with two in Bridgwater and a third on site. Other infrastructure includes building two park and ride sites and developing Combwich Wharf.
View of Hinkley Point C with Hinkley Point A and B in the background The power station is expected to provide up to 25,000 jobs during the lifetime of the project and once built will provide about 900 full-time jobs.

Just days after George Osborne made his nuclear announcement Chinese state-run TV was showing-off its nuclear armed submarines for the first time in 42 years accompanied by rousing music.

Official Chinese news agency Xinhua called the subs an "assassin's mace that would make adversaries tremble".

Labour MP Dr Alan Whitehead, also a member of the energy and climate change committee called the Chinese nuclear company CNNC an "arm of the state".

"There doesn't appear to be a clear distinction between the role of the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation in developing civil nuclear and developing and forwarding military nuclear," he told the World Tonight.

"Big corporations particularly national corporations in China are not companies in the way that we would see them in the UK."

He said the Chinese military - the People's Liberation Army - would be involved in some of the decisions made by the firm.

He has called on the UK government to state publicly how the investment in critical national infrastructure was approved and by whom.

Corruption case

Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the decision to invest in the British nuclear project would have been a "strategic decision" that would have been approved by China's State Council - the nation's ruling executive.

The UK Cabinet Office said in a statement that "the process for dealing with such issues falls under the aegis of the National Security Council".

It said the government had "put in place an approach which enables it to assess the risks associated with foreign investment and develop strategies to manage them.

Cost of generating electricity, Nuclear £92.50 from 2023, onshore wind £100, offshore wind £155, tidal and wave £305, biomass £105, solar £125, electricity (gas/coal generated) £55.05, all other prices from 2014.

The National Security Council "brings together the economic and security arms of the government and is the forum that ultimately balances the risks and opportunities of inward investment decisions," added the Cabinet Office statement.

But despite repeated requests the Cabinet Office has refused to say whether Chinese investment in Hinkley or the possible full majority ownership of nuclear reactors in the future has been formally discussed, assessed or approved by the National Security Council.

Critics fear Britain may be sleepwalking into nuclear relationship with China it will regret especially if in years to come China wants to introduce its own nuclear technology to the UK.

"The Chinese domestic nuclear programme certainly leaves much to be desired" says Dr Paul Dorfman of the University College London Energy Institute.

'Safe power'

He is worried by the lack of transparency in the Chinese nuclear industry and cites the arrest and dismissal by the Chinese Government in August 2009 of the President of CNNC in a £260m corruption case involving allegations of "bid-rigging in nuclear power construction".

Start Quote

Any company involved in the UK nuclear power industry does so in accordance with the most stringent regulations in the world”

End Quote UK Cabinet Office

Chinese investment in key energy infrastructure is "deeply problematic," he said and industry experts were worried about "China's weak regulatory structures".

The UK Cabinet Office says Chinese firms have a "track-record in delivering safe nuclear power over the past thirty years. And that in the long-term it will deliver lower and more stable energy prices."

"Any company involved in the UK nuclear power industry does so in accordance with the most stringent regulations in the world. On this basis, we welcome companies which can demonstrate the capability to contribute to safe nuclear power generation in the UK."

The economics of the Hinkley C project have also been slammed. Peter Atherton of the respected city firm Liberum Capital said they were "flabbergasted" by the deal.

At £8bn per reactor, Hinkley Point is "the most expensive power station in the world (excluding hydro schemes) on a per megawatt basis," said Mr Atherton.

He said the French and Chinese state owned firms would earn between £65bn and £80bn in dividends from British consumers over the project's lifetime.

"The UK government was taking a massive bet that fossil fuel prices will be extremely high in the future. If that bet proves wrong then this contract will look economically insane when HPC (Hinkley Point C) commissions" added Mr Atherton.

Tim Yeo said the budget was so high "because they have factored in a much bigger contingency in to this project".

But he added: "I do believe it is in Britain's interests to have part of its electricity generated by nuclear power.

"It is a secure, safe, clean, low- carbon source of electricity."

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    girl at

    As we've reported, hundreds of secondary schools in England, including many top private schools, could see their league table ratings plummet following a shake-up of the system. They're being published at 09:30 GMT. The government says it has stripped out qualifications of little value, but some head teachers say the tables will be "a complete mess" because of the changes.

    Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, says it even "calls into question the validity of the performance tables".

     
  58.  
    Chris Mason Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: A "clammy hands" theme to Nick Clegg's interviews. He's told @bbcbreakfast&@gmb about sticky paws of "bureaucrats." http://bit.ly/18xccRz

     
  59.  
    Norman Smith, BBC News Assistant Political Editor

    tweets: Nick Clegg - Never mind the apocolypitc warnings we will confound our critics at the election

     
  60.  
    07:39: Poll tracker
    poll tracker graphic

    The polls will be coming thick and fast in the coming months - keep up to date with the BBC's new interactive poll tracker, which lets you see the results of polls conducted by a range of organisations.

    The tracker also includes a timeline of key events, so you can see how public opinion might have shifted at important junctures in the past five years.

     
  61.  
    07:34: 'Responsible and fair' BBC Breakfast

    Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg says the central question of the election campaign is how to finish the job of securing an economic recovery - and doing so fairly. In Bristol, the deputy prime minister tells BBC Breakfast News that Labour wants to "lurch off" to the left and the Conservatives to the right. The Conservatives, he says, want to make cuts for ideological reasons; Labour wants to stick its head in the sand and not deal with the deficit. The Liberal Democrats would cut less than the Conservative and borrow less than Labour.

     
  62.  
    07:26: Scottish Home Rule
    Ed miliband

    A "Home Rule Bill for Scotland" would be introduced within the first 100 days of a Labour government, leader Ed Miliband says. He will make the commitment during a visit to Glasgow later. The Scottish National Party says any suggestion the bill would amount to real Home Rule is "laughable".

     
  63.  
    07:23: Oversight criticised

    The Department for International Development has been criticised by MPs for "unacceptably poor" oversight of a UK-funded development agency. The Public Accounts Committee says the Private Infrastructure Development Group is beset by "poor financial management". It says there are doubts about the integrity of its investments and a closer eye is needed on its spending - including spending of more than £75,000 on 15 flights between January 2011 and July 2014.

     
  64.  
    07:21: League tables row
    schools

    New league tables for English secondary schools are being published today and not everybody will be pleased with what they show. Scores of top private secondaries expect to be at the bottom of the tables, following confusion over International GCSEs. School leaders say many schools have been "caught unawares" by a shift in which qualifications are recognised. Speaking to Radio 4, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association for Head Teachers, says publishing data on schools is the right thing to do - but they need to be used with "extreme caution", particularly this year.

     
  65.  
    Price of power The Daily Telegraph

    Scrap Trident, ditch Barnett, reverse the cuts - the price of power for Miliband and Cameron in a hung parliament http://tgr.ph/1K8DUzv

     
  66.  
    07:16: Clegg in Bristol BBC Breakfast
    Nick Clegg

    Nick Clegg is in Bristol announcing a new round of local investment. "We need to end the Whitehall knows best culture that has held this country back for far too long," he tells the BBC.

    Under the coalition's Growth Deals scheme, around £2bn a year from Whitehall budgets is being gathered into a Local Growth Fund. The money is then being channelled through 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships, run by councils and businesses.

     
  67.  
    07:15: Don't dismiss the Greens Financial Times

    In its leader column, the Financial Times (pay wall) argues for greater scrutiny of Green Party policies. The German Greens, it says, can claim credit for that country's abandonment of nuclear power generation. And, in the UK, the party's growing popularity puts pressure on Labour to move in a green-ward direction.

     
  68.  
    07:04: Women in prison BBC Radio 5 live
    Prison officer locking gates

    The government is expected to announce measures today aimed at trying to stop so many women being sent to prison. Justice Minister Simon Hughes wants to halve the number of women ending up behind bars. He tells BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast female offenders are a "special case" and should be treated differently to men because many had been victims themselves. There are currently around 3,800 women in prison in England and Wales.

     
  69.  
    07:02: Breaking News BBC Breakfast

    Deputy PM Nick Clegg arrives in Bristol to announce latest round of Growth Fund investment, he will be live on BBC Breakfast 07:10. You can watch via the Live Video tab at the top of this page.

     
  70.  
    06:52: Where are the Real Tories? The Guardian

    In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins bemoans what he sees as the absence of "Real Tories" from the election campaign. They, he says, would oppose the advance of the modern state. But, according to the columnist, no Westminster politician "dares oppose the monolithic interest group that is modern government".

     
  71.  
    06:50: NHS survey
    Doctor

    Public satisfaction with the way the NHS runs in England, Wales and Scotland has risen to its second highest level ever, according to survey data for 2014, published by the King's Fund health think tank. The latest results show satisfaction with the NHS rising from 60% to 65% in 2014, while dissatisfaction fell to an all-time low of 15%.

    A couple of caveats though: This is a survey of 1,937 members of the public, not patients specifically, so the findings are more likely to reflect perceptions of the NHS than experience of it; and the polling was carried out before the recent well-publicised winter pressures on the NHS began to bite.

    A BBC/Populus poll this week suggested the NHS was the most important issue ahead of the general election, in May.

     
  72.  
    06:47: Fury The Daily Mail

    A more in-depth look at some of today's papers now.

    Tomorrow's Mail front page

    The Daily Mail says Labour's "big beasts are at war over Ed Miliband's controversial election campaign tactics", after grandee John Prescott "reacted with fury" to interventions by former Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn and former minister Lord Hutton who aired frustration over the party's "retreat into its supposed 'comfort zone' of the NHS".

     
  73.  
    BBC Radio 4 Today
    BBC

    tweets: Read today's full running order here: bbc.in/1LjBFg6 #r4today

     
  74.  
    06:29: Making the headlines
    Telegraph/Guardian front pages

    Here is a round-up of the main stories covered in the UK's national newspapers this morning - including a look at the front pages and expert reviews on the BBC News Channel.

     
  75.  
    06:24: Back out campaigning

    After all the excitement of Prime Minister's Questions at Westminster yesterday, the party leaders are expected to be back out and about today, as the long election campaign continues.

     
  76.  
    06:20: Good morning Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online

    Hello and welcome to a fresh day's coverage of political developments ahead of the 7 May General Election - yes there's just 98 days to go now. You'll be able to listen or watch all the BBC's political output today on this page and we'll be bringing you all the best clips, quotes, analysis, reaction and breaking political news throughout the day. If you want to see what to expect, here's yesterday's campaign countdown.

     

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