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UK to partner with France and China to build nuclear plants

Some aspects of European energy markets continue to surprise, even after a decade or so of intended competition across the continent

Who would have thought that a modern, forward-thinking country like the UK – a regional pioneer of nuclear-generated electricity – would seriously consider allowing overseas state companies to build expensive, baseload nuclear plants to guarantee UK state-funded, high-priced security of supply, at a time when the gas market is looking long for another decade; and renewable technology is becoming cheaper all the time?

The decision is surprising given that the French technology that has been chosen – EPR – has been so glacially slow in coming to market. It was supposed to be operating in Finland six years ago but now might start up in 2018. According to French press, EDF has formally asked the French government for permission to delay the start of its EPR nuclear reactor in Flamanville until 2020, compared with the 2017 deadline.    

And the confusion deepens when it transpires that one of these companies is from China. Even leaving aside the question of compromising the UK’s national security, China is still a state whose own steel industry has been the subject of numerous anti-dumping probes from the European Commission and contributed considerably to the UK steel industry’s own weakness. 

In September the EC published anti-dumping duties on imports of stainless steel cold-rolled flat products (SSCR) from China and Taiwan. The EC has confirmed existing provisional measures and imposes definitive anti-dumping duty rates up to 25.3% on SSCR imports from China, and up to 6.8% on imports from Taiwan. The investigation was initiated in June 2014 following a complaint submitted by industry lobby group, Eurofer.

The EC investigation found that dumped imports from China and Taiwan shot up in the period 2010-2013 and that imports from China doubled in 2014. Imports from the two countries undercut EU producers’ sale prices by more than 10%, while the injury margin was higher, exceeding 20%. 

Responding to definitive anti-dumping duties regulation, Eurofer director-general Axel Eggert said: “These remedial duties are crucial if the stainless steel industry is to recover from the effects of Chinese and Taiwanese dumping. The industry’s economic sustainability is vital to achieving the EU’s goal of ensuring jobs, growth and investment in Europe.” It urged the EC to remain vigilant about attempts by Chinese and Taiwanese exporters to violate these measures.

That said, the EU’s own steel might be cheaper to produce if the electricity price did not include levies and taxes that weigh heavily on energy-intensive industries. 

And companies operating within the refining and petrochemicals sectors also have reason to dislike the EU’s love of directives that, while springing from the best intentions, are having a depressing effect on their businesses while not harming external suppliers.

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