Britain asks Japan to take key nuclear power role

Artist's Impression of the Westinghouse AP1000 design
Artist’s Impression of the Westinghouse AP1000 design

Britain is asking Japan to build nuclear power facilities in the UK, five and a half years on from the Fukushima disaster.

Hitachi has been approached to build a new nuclear plant in Wales, in a deal backed by money from the Japanese government.

It follows on from a deal reached earlier this year for three nuclear reactors in the north west of England to be built by a consortium controlled by Toshiba.

The Welsh deal involving Hitachi is not yet finalised but Britain’s trade minister Greg Clark went to Tokyo this week to discuss it. The British finance minister, the Chancellor Philip Hammond, also spoke to Hitachi in Tokyo recently.

For Japan, investments in the UK fit strategically with its plan to build nuclear power plants worldwide including in China, India and the US.

Japan’s own nuclear reactors were entirely shut down following an accident at Fukushima 2011, following an earthquake and tsunami.

Although most plants have restarted operations, there remains significant resistance to nuclear power among many Japanese people and distrust of the government’s ability to manage nuclear accidents.

There is also an anti-nuclear movement in the UK. The pressure group Greenpeace warns of the possibility of leaks and radioactive pollution and says advances in renewable energy and a drop in electricity demand should make the new nuclear power plants unnecessary.

However, the British government is committed to building a new generation of nuclear power stations. It recently commissioned EDF of France to build the enormous Hinkley Point power station in the north England, the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in decades.

Hinkley Point will cost of $24 billion. It will be paid for with French and Chinese money.

For the British government, the extensive investment by Asian countries in its energy infrastructure is a boost, following the referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU.
The involvement of both China and Japan fits with the UK government’s strategy of promoting trade with both countries.
The Japanese deals are based on a different funding model to the Hinkley Point power station, which is totally financed from foreign money, including Chinese investment.

According to the Financial Times newspaper, the Hitachi project in Wales would be paid for by a mixture of British and Japanese government funding.

Jiji news agency suggests that loans to fund it would come through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Development Bank of Japan.

Separately, Toshiba has teamed up with a French utility company, Engie, to build three Westinghouse reactors in Cumbria in the North West of England.

Reuters reports that the Korean company KEPCO would also like to invest in the Cumbrian project, backed by support from the Korean government.