Nuclear power a new front for China’s diplomacy
France and Britain are only separated by a narrow strait, but when it comes to nuclear cooperation, the two neighbors need the Chinese to build a bridge.
The two European countries have been planning to build two nuclear reactors in Somerset, England, but the agreement was reached only after two Chinese companies decided to join the project with the promise of hefty investment.
The importance of the Chinese participation was highlighted by French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who on Sunday visited Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, a joint venture of Electricite de France (EDF) and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), both investors in the British project.
Speaking at the plant located in China’s southern province of Guangdong, Ayrault hailed the 30 years of nuclear cooperation between the two countries as a “great cause.”
“Our cooperation has entered a new phase. In the future, we will provide better and safer clean energy to people around the globe,” Ayrault said.
The French PM’s remark echoed the statement made by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang two days ago in Beijing, who said the two governments agreed to expand their cooperation and jointly take advantage of third-party nuclear markets.
Industry observers say the two countries are combining their strength in nuclear technology, market experience, construction and capital, which will profoundly shape the global industry.
Britain is the first developed economy to benefit from the China-France nuclear cooperation.
In October, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne also visited Taishan, where he oversaw the EDF and the CGN in signing a strategic agreement on their joint investment in Somerset’s Hinkley Point C project.
Investors in the 16-billion-pound (26 billion U.S. dollars) program also include the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and France’s Areva. The two Chinese companies will be holding up to 40 percent of total shares, and the CGN is likely to be a major contractor for the project.
The advanced EPR technology at the Taishan plant, currently one of the most mature and stable civil nuclear reactors available, will also be deployed at the Hinkley Point C program, which is the first nuclear power plant Britain has approved since 1995.
Nuclear energy cooperation between China and France dates back to the 1980s, when the two sides decided to build China’s first gigawatt-level nuclear power plant at the Daya Bay, about 200 km away from Taishan.
“We were like master and apprentice at that time, with France being the master,” He Yu, chairman of the CGN, recalled on Friday at a forum celebrating the two countries’ three-decade cooperation.
“Now, we have become strategic partners,” He added. “Based on this fruitful cooperation, China has built its own integrated industrial system of nuclear energy.”
China has 17 reactors in operation and 28 more under construction, which account for two-fifths of the world’s total reactors under construction.
In addition to their prowess in capital investment and construction, Chinese nuclear enterprises have also participated in foreign programs by exporting core parts.
Li Ning, director of the Energy Institute of Xiamen University, believes China, with its rich experience in design, construction and operation of nuclear power plants, has become a major exporter in the civil nuclear sector.
“Britain is the world’s oldest civil nuclear giant, while China has the fastest-growing civil nuclear industry,” Li said. “The Chinese companies’ success in the British market will set a good example for their future exploration of other foreign markets, like Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.”