Confirmation of £6 billion worth of Chinese investment for Hinkley Point C should finally trigger Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation – and with it the need for intelligent and integrated security systems, as Chris Plimley explains.
We’re still awaiting the ultimate investment decision from EDF Energy on the long-delayed Hinkley Point C power plant in Somerset. That’ s expected by the end of the year.
While EDF is still confirming nothing and saying the final decision will be based solely upon EDF and Chinese investment, it’s now expected to be purely a rubber-stamping exercise after Chinese president Xi Jinping announced the £6 billion investment by China General Nuclear (CGN) on his recent state visit to the UK.
Under a strategic investment agreement, CGN – which will supply the money through its new company General Nuclear International – will own one third (33.5%) of the operation, while EDF retains at least a half share and will offer other investors stakes in the £18 billion project.
‘End of the beginning’
The agreement marks the ‘end of the beginning’ to a story that goes back a full decade to a time when (then) Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a thorough review of the UK’s energy policy.
On the conclusion of that review in May 2006, Blair said that the replacement of Britain’s existing nuclear plants was “back on the agenda with a vengeance” and that failing to take action would be a “dereliction of duty”.
It may yet be another ten years before we see any energy from Hinkley. EDF group chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy said as recently as September that the ‘first power date’ of 2023 can no longer be met, swiftly adding that a new date will be given when the company takes its final investment decision.
Presuming that decision is indeed a ‘Yes’, the Hinkley Point C plant would then become the first new nuclear power station constructed within the UK in almost two decades. It will comprise two reactors jointly meeting around 7% of the UK’s electricity demand.
Wider UK partnership
Beyond Hinkley, EDF and CGN have also agreed the main points of terms focused on a wider UK partnership for the joint development of new nuclear power plants at Sizewell C in Suffolk and Bradwell B in Essex.
With hindsight, things were heading this way from early 2013 when Centrica pulled out of investing in Britain’s next generation nuclear plants.
By October 2013, Britain had signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with China on nuclear co-operation and confirmed that Chinese companies could eventually become majority stakeholders in new UK nuclear plants.
This September, the UK Government then announced up to £2 billion in support for the Hinkley Point C reactors.
Admittedly, the cost of plans for Hinkley came under fire from, among others, HSBC and Conservative Peer Lord Howell of Guildford. Further, UK public support for using nuclear-generated electricity has fallen to a low point of 34%, with those opposed up to 24%. That’s according to the latest quarterly survey conducted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
That said, Turkey, China and France all continue to press ahead with new generating plants while Japan has restarted its first nuclear reactor since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster sparked by a tsunami and earthquake.
Pros and cons of nuclear power
Inevitably, the debates around the pros and cons of nuclear power and its sustainability will rage on and on.
So too will the arguments on the sense of accepting Chinese money to secure Britain’s nuclear future from both a Human Rights and a national security perspective.
What’s not in doubt, though, is that nuclear installations need 24/7 protection and strictly controlled access, both of which demand top-level physical security solutions increasingly integrated with electronic and human-centric measures.
The new-build nuclear market is not alone in demanding more joined-up physical security technology, with the integration of security fencing and lighting, access control, PIDs and intruder alarms, CCTV and video analytics as well as guard patrols and Security Control Rooms now commonplace.
The ‘return to favour’ of nuclear power seemingly apparent in Western Europe, coupled with growing fears of terrorist-related activity, means an absolute insistence on the highest grade physical security at such sites.
Chris Plimley is Sales Manager for High Security Products at Zaun