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.

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"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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  75.  
    @LBC LBC

    tweets: Nigel Farage's response to the woman who called him the Messiah is hilarious!

     
  76.  
    10:46: Lab/SNP pact would 'save' union

    Amid all the calls for Ed Miliband to rule out a coalition with the SNP, an alternative take on politics.co.uk. The piece argues that ignoring SNP electoral success would push Westminster further from Scotland, whereas Ed Miliband and Sturgeon arm-in-arm would send a powerful "better together" message.

     
  77.  
    @Plaid_Cymru Plaid Cymru

    tweets: "The vision I've got for Wales is one where no individual is left behind & more autonomy is how we can achieve that" Leanne tells students

     
  78.  
    10:29: SNP 'hurts Labour'
    Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy MP and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon MSP

    More comment on a possible Labour/SNP coalition from Phil Collins in today's Times (subscription required).

    He writes: "Give or take a few Lib Dem seats, the rise and fall of the SNP and Labour is a zero-sum game. The SNP hurts Labour and benefits the Conservatives. This is a split in the left that will surpass the damage that UKIP can do to the Conservatives south of the border."

    He calls for Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy to, therefore, rule out a coalition with the SNP.

     
  79.  
    10:23: Labour to set out pensioner offer
    Labour leader Ed Miliband MP

    Ed Miliband is to set out his party's offer to pensioners at a campaign event in Yorkshire later today.

    The Labour leader will pledge to maintain the 'triple lock' on the state pension and guarantee free bus passes and free TV licences to all those currently eligible. But he will say he will take away winter fuel payments from the richest five per cent of pensioners.

    More here.

     
  80.  
    10:17: Challenge for Bennett The Daily Telegraph
    Green party leader Natalie Bennett

    Today's Telegraph may make reassuring reading for Green party leader Natalie Bennett, ahead of her party conference speech this afternoon.

    Although the paper reports some knives out for Ms Bennett among the membership, following her performance during 'that' LBC interview, the piece says the numbers dissatisfied are not enough for any move against her as leader. A petition of ten per cent of the membership is required to trigger a leadership election.

    We will be covering Natalie Bennett's speech here around 14:00 GMT.

     
  81.  
    10:08: Plaid conference
    Leanne Wood

    Plaid Cymru is holding its conference in Caernarfon today. In her speech - expected early this afternoon - party leader Leanne Wood will urge the "Westminster parties" to promise Wales an extra £1.2bn a year. You can follow the proceedings here.

     
  82.  
    10:01: 'Serious concerns' over parking plans
    Car park

    The Local Government Association has been responding to the government's announcement that drivers will get 10 minutes' grace before being fined if they stay too long in council-owned car parks in England. Cllr David Sparks, the body's chair, says many councils already allow grace periods.

    He adds: "We are concerned that government has rushed through today's announcement and failed to fully consult councils on the detail of the regulation. Beyond the headlines, what is particularly worrying is the detail of these proposals which could make roads less safe for vulnerable pedestrians and inconvenience millions of motorists and commuters.

    "We have serious concerns about the decision to ban the use of CCTV on zebra crossings and bus routes. This decision could endanger vulnerable road users such as children, blind or disabled people and create delays for millions of bus users."

     
  83.  
    09:55: Farage on 'negative campaign'

    A bit more from Nigel Farage on the tone of the election campaign.

    The UKIP leader has ruled out making personal attacks on his opponents for the duration of the campaign and blamed the influence of American advisers for what he predicted would be the most negative contest ever.

    Mr Farage laid blame for the tone on "Washington spin doctors" - the Conservatives' Jim Messina and Labour's David Axelrod.

    "What I'm seeing in this election is the influence of these big American advisers and it's becoming the most negative, personal and nasty campaign I've ever seen," he said.

    The UKIP leader hit out at criticism of his Labour counterpart, telling LBC radio: "I don't agree with what most of Ed Miliband stands for but he's a perfectly decent human being.

    "For him to be attacked personally day after day after day - how is that taking us forward? I'm going to do my best over the next 60-odd days to rise above it."

     
  84.  
    @rosschawkins Ross Hawkins, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Green conference doc: policy to ban almost all cars "would probably prove unattractive to the electorate"

     
  85.  
    09:49: Immigration figures Chris Mason Political correspondent, BBC News

    There is recognition at Westminster - across the political divide - that immigration really matters to millions of people, our correspondent says. You only have to flick through the literature the party have been churning out to really get a sense of how important immigration is, he adds.

     
  86.  
    09:47: Farage on 2010 manifesto

    "We had a massive PR problem with our 2010 manifesto", Nigel Farage admits on LBC. "A 12 page document that was put to me and signed off was fine. Behind it were 486 pages of detailed notes then deemed to be the manifesto." He says much of the content was "intellectual wonderings" and accuses other of playing "academic games".

     
  87.  
    09:39: Labour-led coalition with SNP a "nightmare scenario" The Daily Telegraph

    Max Hastings sets out his views on the prospect of a Labour-led coalition with the SNP in today's Mail.

    He doesn't spare the hyperbole: "If this sounds a nightmare scenario for the English people, and indeed for everybody with a head on their shoulders throughout the UK, it is the way events could turn out if the polls are right."

    He concludes: "The grim prospect for English taxpayers is that Miliband himself, and many of his supporters, would be more than happy to support the SNP's almost Stalinist agenda for raising borrowing and soaking the rich, purely to sustain their Labour and Scottish client votes."

     
  88.  
    09:29: Hammond in Warsaw
    Hammond

    Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Warsaw for talks with his Polish counterpart Grzegorz Schetyna

     
  89.  
    09:25: Farage 'a very naughty boy'

    Nigel Farage is having a fun over on LBC.

    When one caller said she felt Mr Farage had been sent from on high to protect us, presenter Nick Ferrari asked Mr Farage if he had, in fact, been sent by God. The UKIP leader modestly responded: "I am not the Messiah, I'm a very naughty boy" - a reference, of course, to the famous Monty Python sketch,

     
  90.  
    @JamesTapsfield James Tapsfield, Press Association reporter

    tweets: Ukip immig policy premised on leaving EU - but wd take two years+ of negs after "out" referendum vote. Unclear what wd happen in interim

     
  91.  
    09:20: UK 'no longer a 'serious player'
    Nigel Farage

    Nigel Farage is voicing strong support for increasing the UK defence budget on his LIBC show.

    He says it is "absolutely astonishing" that a Conservative-led government has upped the foreign aid budget but cut the defence budget.

    He added: "Internationally we are no longer being referred to as a serious player."

     
  92.  
    09:16: Farage 'turning the other cheek'

    Nigel Farage comes out fighting against Nick Clegg over on LBC.

    Responding to the Lib Dem leader saying Mr Farage was "having a nice time of it", the UKIP leader said he didn't want to trade insults, adding: "I'm trying to turn the other cheek."

    But he went on: "when it comes to inconsistency on policy the Lib Dems are absolutely at the top of the tree."

    Mr Farage said this election campaign was becoming one of the nastiest he had ever seen but he would do his best to rise above it.

     
  93.  
    09:09: Farage: Cameron afraid to debate immigration

    Nigel Farage is talking immigration with Nick Ferrari on LBC.

    He asks: "I'm reading Tory literature talking about controlling immigration - but how can you control immigration if you have an open door policy?"

    The UKIP leader went on to say this is the issue Mr Cameron is afraid to debate.

     
  94.  
    @Nigel_Farage Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

    tweets: #PhoneFarage: Mr Cameron doesn't want to face the questions about how he's doubled the national debt in just 5 years

    Nigel Farage
     
  95.  
    09:00: Jim Murphy on polls
    Jim Murphy

    Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has been speaking to BBC Scotland about his party's polling performance, which suggests they could lose almost all of their seats north of the border. He told Good Morning Scotland: "There's still a long way to go. In voting for an SNP MP, people will get a Tory government." More on his interview on our Scotland Live page.

     
  96.  
    08:58: Preventing extremism BBC Radio 4 Today

    Has the government's Prevent scheme - a key element of its counter-terrorism strategy- failed? Frank Gardner, our security correspondent, says it has worked in some cases, where people have been steered away from extremism at the last minute. But in other cases it has been counter-productive. The scheme has a problem of perception - it is seen by many Muslims as unfairly focussing on their communities, he adds.

    Our correspondent spoke to experts about the scheme. We'll post a link later.

     
  97.  
    08:53: Putin's 'undeclared war' on Ukraine BBC Radio 4 Today
    José Manuel Barroso

    José Manuel Barroso says Europe must not accept Russia seeking to redraw the borders of Europe.

    He told Today: "Putin is saying he respects the sovereignty of Ukraine. But at the same time we know this is the biggest Russian operation since the Second World War in military terms. It's a kind of undeclared war."

    The former President of the European Commission went on to say that he expects the situation to get worse before it gets better.

     
  98.  
    08:47: 'Parliamentary no-man's land' The Daily Telegraph

    Fraser Nelson says the Tories need to be more ambitious if they are to win an overall majority.

    Writing in today's Telegraph, he says: "On its own, 'long-term economic plan' just won't be enough. It will lead not to victory, but to a parliamentary no-man's land."

     
  99.  
    08:44: Sturgeon on Trident The Guardian

    Is Trident a red line for the SNP? In another video posted by the Guardian, Nicola Sturgeon suggests her party could still back a Labour government if it backs renewal of the weapons. But the SNP leader rules out her party voting for it.

     
  100.  
    08:36: Davey: Tories 'crazy' for fracking The Daily Telegraph
    Ed Davey MP

    The Telegraph is reporting Ed Davey's criticism of the faith some Conservatives have in fracking.

    The Lib Dem Energy Secretary said parts of the Conservative Party are "crazy" because they want to "frack every bit of croquet lawn" in Britain.

     

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