Q and A: China’s nuclear fusion with Britain

Q Why is a French firm teaming up with China to build power plants in Britain?

A EDF has wanted to build a third nuclear station at Hinkley Point for years, but has been searching for a new investor after UK-listed Centrica quit in February. China has enough cash to get involved in pretty much any infrastructure project in the world, and Britain is one of the few places with the track record and political will to allow nuclear work right now.

Q And I take it that the Chinese firms in question will be prepared to pay handsomely for this learning opportunity?

A Yes and no. They will plough in more money than the UK is prepared to do (particularly given the Lib Dems’ ambivalence towards atomic power), but they will benefit from EDF’s hard bargain on the price we pay for the power generated.

Q But worth it to keep Britain’s lights on, right?

A Unless you happen to find some oil or gas fields in your back garden, the list of credible alternatives is extremely short. But that’s the point: this list does include shale, and opponents believe that this, rather than costly nuclear, is what should be used. Ultimately, this isn’t really about keeping Britain’s lights on – it is about doing so while simultaneously decarbonising.

Q What will happen to the prices we pay for our electricity?

A With the guaranteed price offered by the coalition around twice the market price, consumers are going to be hammered.