Greg Clark has left the door open to a Chinese state-backed company getting involved in a bid to take over Toshiba’s abandoned Moorside nuclear project.
The business and energy secretary told Labour backbencher Albert Owen on Wednesday (6 February) that CGN is not restricted from forming a consortium with another company, like EDF, to take forward other sites like Moorside and Wylfa.
Owen, who represents the constituency of Ynys Mon, the home to Hitachi’s recently suspended nuclear project at Wylfa, had asked Clark during a Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee hearing whether he had a “principled objection” to CGN entering such a tie-up.
In December, Utility Week reported CGN had expressed an interest in taking over Toshiba’s project, which the Japanese conglomerate pulled out of a few weeks earlier.
CGN already has a one-third stake in Hinkley Point C, the construction of which is being led by EDF, and is taking the lead on plans for a new nuclear power station at Bradwell in Suffolk.
However, the intervening weeks have seen intensifying concern about Chinese ownership of strategic infrastructure assets in Western countries.
Clark played down fears of a shortfall in low-carbon generation during the 2030s by arguing there is “no shortage” of cheap renewable energy coming on stream.
He said: “One of the reasons they proved difficult to finance is that there is an abundance of alternatives that are cheaper. We are now entering a world where green power need not be subsidised.
“With all plants mentioned, with the exception of Moorside, it is still possible to deploy in the 2030s if a financial model is available.”
The secretary of state confirmed the government is committed to concluding an assessment by the summer on how the regulated asset base model for financing infrastructure can be applied to nuclear new build.
He refused to be drawn into criticising recent comments by the Hitachi chairman at the Davos summit that only a state-backed company can deliver nuclear development in the UK, describing Hiroaki Nakanishi as a “great ally” of Britain and emphasising that the Wylfa plant has only been “suspended”.
Clark also provided the committee with a progress report on the advanced modular reactor (AMR) programme, confirming reports that Rolls-Royce has submitted a bid to the department’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for its mini-nuclear plant.
Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary at BEIS, added that the department is engaging on research and development with a further five AMR designs.
But he said the government could not provide a date by when they will receive approval from the regulator under the Generic Design Assessment process.
Chisholm, who appeared alongside Clark, also admitted to the committee that the department is behind schedule on its hydrogen policy as a result of Brexit.
When pressed about the departmental tasks that have been pushed down the priority list due to Brexit preparation, he said its work on assessing hydrogen’s potential to provide low-carbon heating is three to six months behind schedule. He said the smart meter rollout has not been affected by any diversion of resources to Brexit-related activities.
Chisholm said the department has hired an extra 700 officials to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, which includes its work to prepare the new nuclear safeguarding regime that will be required due to the associated departure from Euratom.
Clark additionally said the government should “stick” with its block on onshore windfarms bidding for support through contracts for difference auctions and that the government is willing to speed up its work on rolling out carbon capture and storage technologies.