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Spotlight: Hinkley Point project sheds new light on UK employment, energy supply——Xinhuanet

2017-09-13

LONDON, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- In southwest England of Somerset on the coast of Bristol Channel, a construction site as big as 245 football pitches are fully charged with dust and energy with giant digging machines busy excavating four million cubic meters of earth to house Hinkley Point C's two future reactors.

"My daughter sits on that 100-ton dump truck," David Starsmeare, a concrete worker, told Xinhua, pointing to a direction far away with a broad smile and obvious pride on his rugged face.

It is not rare in the Hinkley Point C nuclear project that family members are working together as the project preferentially seeks to employ local residents.

During construction, which will take close to a decade, more than 5,600 people will work on site at one time during the busiest period.

The 14-billion-GBP (18-billion-U.S.-dollar) project, with one-third investments from China, will create 25,000 jobs during construction and 900 permanent positions during the station's 60-year life, according to Nigel Cann, the director of site construction.

Tour guide Kieran Kelly looked more cheerful. Her husband, after nine years of training, now sits on the control room of Hinkley Point B, a working nuclear plant hosted by a giant grey cubic concrete building close to Hinkley Point C.

Kelly sees a new job for her family through all the dust in the construction of Hinkley Point C as Hinkley Point B is set to retire in 2023, while almost half of Britain's 15 working reactors will be decommissioned by 2025.

"Our seven-month son is on the promotional board of Hinkley's family day as the youngest visitor to the construction site," Kelly told Xinhua.

CHINESE INVESTMENT AN OPPORTUNITY

A research from energy company Drax has found more than half of the UK's electricity has come from low-carbon sources since June last year after the government announced plans to close Britain's coal-fired power stations probably by 2025.

The government also aims to ban diesel and petrol cars by 2040, which further raised the country's demand for new generation of cost-effective, low-carbon energy.

Robert Davis, the COO of General Nuclear International, a UK subsidiary of China's Shenzhen-based General Nuclear Power Corporation, said nuclear power will be an increasingly important source of energy for Britain.

"This country needs new generation. It needs new low-carbon, cost-effective generation that is secure and safe. There's no other substitute today for nuclear," he said, in comparison with wind and solar energy.

According to Davis, about 29 percent of the UK's generation capacity right now is coming from nuclear energy.

"That needs to be maintained, and the current nuclear fleet is being very old, and will get off-line soon, so it needs to be replaced by Hinkley Point and others," he said.

Hinkley Point C is described by local media as "Britain's first new nuclear power station in a generation," Davis said the fact that China can invest and build nuclear power plants in Britain shows that China's nuclear technology is "top-notch" in the world.

However, some worry that such a strategic project might be compromised by political factors.

In July 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May delayed approving Hinkley Point C project, amid security concerns about China's investment, despite the fact that the French nuclear giant EDF is the largest stakeholder while China's CGN holds one third of the stakes in Hinkley Point C project.

Gordon Bell, an EDF senior manager working at the site of Hinkley Point C, said regarding Chinese investment as a threat is completely ill grounded.

"As the UK is leaving the European Union, it would be really unwise for the country to slam the door on Chinese investment," said Bell, a British.

A NEW PLANT IN PLAN

With Hinkley Point C expected to power 5 million homes by 2025, a brand new nuclear plant has gone through the first stage of the British General Design Review (GDA), with Chinese investment and technology leading the project.

According to the General Nuclear International, the British nuclear regulator has finished the first stage of the four stages in the GDA for China's HPR1000 nuclear technology that is proposed for the new nuclear power station to be located at Bradwell in Essex on the eastern shore of Britain.

The British nuclear safety regulations requires that the nuclear power technology, such as China's HPR1000 that has not been used in Britain, must go through the GDA before construction can begin, which is often a long, complicated process. The company hopes to get the GDA approval in five years' time.

Like in the Hinkley project, French nuclear giant EDF is a stakeholder in the Bradwell project, with about one-third of investment.

Richard Mayson, EDF's Bradwell Project Director, responsible for EDF's input into the Bradwell project and GDA, told Xinhua that he is "very confident" with the China-developed third-generation HPR1000 nuclear reactor getting through the ongoing government assessment.

"I'm sure there will be areas where decisions are taken to make modifications to match UK expectations, UK regulatory requirements. I am sure that won't undermine the ability of the design to get through the prove process," Mayson said.

Zheng Dongshan, the CEO of General Nuclear International, told Xinhua that the second stage of the GDA is expected to start in November and the assessment process is "in general going well."

The CEO said the company needs to, on the one hand, help the Hinkley project going well and, on the other, make through this verification process.

"We must consider how can we identify the risk when we build the Bradwell nuclear station. Also, we need to think about how can we control the safety and quality of the progress and investment well," he said.