Could Disagreements With China Scuffle Steps Towards Reducing Carbon Emissions?
What’s happening? UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has approved plans for an alternative to Huawei for rolling out the 5G network, sparking remarks from China's UK ambassador Lui Xiaoming that abandoning Huawei could scupper plans for Chinese companies to build nuclear power plants and contribute to the HS2 high-speed rail network. The ambassador recently stated Beijing would view Huawei as “a litmus test of whether Britain is a true and faithful partner of China” after Huawei was given the go ahead to build the 5G network to 35% capacity. However, the UK government has dismissed the most recent comments as "sabre-rattling".
Why does this matter? We’ve previously noted how next-generation nuclear power could be essential to reducing emissions globally as nations turn to alternative forms of energy.
As well as being inherently safer than previous iterations of the technology, emerging designs for nuclear reactors are appealing since they can run on alternative fuels, including depleted uranium. This mitigates any concerns around future fuel supply. A number of governments are supporting next-generation development.
Deteriorating relations between the West and China, however, may scupper efforts to bring nuclear into the conversation around sustainable energy.
In late-2019, Bill Gates noted trade tensions between the Washington and Beijing had held back the development of an experimental nuclear reactor by one of his firms in China by five years. Gates-backed TerraPower had to halt development of its reactor at the end of 2018.
Keeping China onside may well be critical to any increasing use of nuclear in the UK. According to the above article, Beijing has a minority stake in two larger-scale nuclear plants in England, in partnership with France’s EDF Energy. China’s General Nuclear Power Corporation had also been planning to build an additional nuclear facility in England, something that this recent disagreement has cast about over.
Further thought from Curation – It’s often thought that, in order for nuclear power to be included in future energy discussions, it needs to gain a social licence to operate given the past catastrophes involving reactors.
Would links between nuclear, China and 5G worsen nuclear’s standing with the UK public, despite its potential low-carbon benefits?
Lateral thought from Curation – The treatment of Huawei is obviously a sensitive issue for Beijing. It’s worth noting, however, that the US Commerce Department recently said the firm could be included in discussions regarding rolling out 5G in the US. Perhaps this is the nod of acceptance the West needs to accept Huawei’s involvement in projects.
Nick Finegold is Founder & CEO of Curation Corp, an emerging and peripheral risks monitoring service.
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