What does UK PM Theresa May wants from Hinkley Point? The short odds she is going to kill the project because it is too expensive and the Chinese are untrustworthy. These odds may get another look if some strategic thinking about how people at the top assess their options gets some traction.
The UK press has made a big deal out of May’s former role as Home Secretary and her obvious security concerns about China. Is that all there is to it? The cost issues have been with the project all the time so how can these two issues be reconciled to move forward with the project?
The key thing to keep in mind about PM May’s strategy on Hinkley Point is that it is linked to a whole series of political objectives. Some of them are using Hinkley as a springboard for achieving other objectives. Here’s a speculative short list. Updated: 9/5/16
The Buck Stops Here May’s top objective is to prove to the British people that she is a capable leader. The American analog is President Harry Truman’s dictum, “the buck stops here.” This objective transcends the scope of the Hinkley Point effort because the waves from this rock in the pond will travel to distant shores. She emerged at PM after the rest the leadership of the conservative party collapsed following the Brexit vote. She has to earn public trust and will do so by being decisive as well as cautious in making big decisions.
Costs Count May inherited the Hinkley project from a failed Conservative Party PM, David Cameron, who’s political misjudgment brought about the Brexit vote and all the negative consequences coming after it. Simply endorsing anything with the significance of Hinkley that was initiated by him won’t fly. No political leader worth their salt is going to just roll over on a $24 billion nuclear project, especially one coming to the table with Areva’s track record in Finland and France of schedule delays and cost overruns. May hasn’t said it yet, but it is likely that any decision to go forward with Hinkley will include clawback provisions for EDF, aka the French government, to make good on cost over runs, etc. It won’t matter who the next President is in Paris. They will need to be prepared to write checks to cover their markers.
Accountability for China May will present a firm position in the face of Chinese bullying at the G20 summit to send them a message that the UK won’t be pushed around over something as important as the next 100 years of electricity generation in her country. May probably does want to do business with China, but on her terms, and not theirs. This means she will hold them accountable for the components they propose to supply for Hinkley and she will make success with Hinkley a precondition to build Hualong One reactors at two other UK sites. Bottom line – the investment money is fine, but there is no free ride to making the UK nuclear program a showcase for Chinese technology. PM David Cameron’s promise to “facilitate” the review of the Hualong One through the Generic Design Assessment is a non-starter. The Chinese will have to prove the safety of every rivet and welded seam to the get approval to build one in the UK even if they successfully complete two in Fujian in China.
Consensus for Security May will turn over the assessment of the security issues to a high profile panel of experts within the government which will speedily issue a report laying out recommendations for the conditions of China’s engagement with Hinkley and two other nuclear power stations. This report will show the British people, EDF, and China that she is not just shooting from the hip, but that there are substantive issues which can be addressed in the UK’s bilateral relations with China.
Timing is Everything May will make her decision by the end of September or the beginning of October. She won’t let the issue fester. This near-term combination of careful consideration, application of accountability for results, and decisiveness are all qualities that will send a message to the British people that she is a capable leader worthy of their trust.
May’s focus on Hinkley won’t end her scrutiny of the UK nuclear new build. She’s likely commission a complete review which will assess not only the construction of new full scale conventional reactors, but also explore the potential for small modular reactors (SMRs) and development of advanced reactors like GE-Hitachi’s PRISM.
Update 9/5/16: British Prime Minister Theresa May said 0n 9/4/16 she wanted her security advisers to help review the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant project. As she arrived for the G20 summit in China, May was asked whether she would ask the National Security Council, a team of ministers supported by intelligence officers, to look at the potential security implications of the Hinkley deal.
“I will be doing exactly as you’ve said which is – as you know, I’ll be looking at all the evidence around this issue,” May replied, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government has sent an official message to Britain and the EU on Brexit. It calls on May “to maintain the UK’s basic policy of keeping its market open to foreign capital” in nuclear power plant construction and other sectors.
— Source: World Nuclear News 9/5/16
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