UK clears Chinese-funded nuke plant deal
The British government on Thursday approved the construction of the country’s first new nuclear power plant in over two decades, a French and Chinese-backed project that had prompted high-level fears about national security. The government said in a statement that it had decided to proceed with the 18 billion-pound ($23 billion) Hinkley Point plant in southwest England, but that future foreign-funded infrastructure projects will be subject to tighter rules.
The plant will be financed by Chinese nuclear power provider CGN and French energy group EDF.
China and France welcomed the approval, which came weeks after Prime Minister Theresa May unexpectedly stalled the deal after she took office in July, saying she wanted to review it.
The delay threw into doubt the “golden era” of ties proclaimed by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to Britain last year. China’s ambassador to Britain warned that it left relations between the two countries at a crossroads.
Some British politicians and diplomats are wary of the enthusiasm the previous government of Prime Minister David Cameron showed for boosting ties with Beijing, and voiced concerns about the security implications of China holding a major stake in such key infrastructure.
Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said the Hinkley Point deal “will include a series of measures to enhance security” and ensure it cannot change hands without the government’s agreement.
Under the deal, EDF won’t be able to sell its controlling stake in the project before completion without British approval.
The British government also said it would impose “significant new safeguards” on future foreign investment in nuclear power and other critical infrastructure, to “ensure that significant stakes cannot be sold without the government’s knowledge or consent.”
“There will be reforms to the government’s approach to the ownership and control of critical infrastructure to ensure that the full implications of foreign ownership are scrutinized for the purposes of national security,” it said in a statement.
China’s CGN welcomed the Hinkley decision and said it was now “able to move forward and deliver” nuclear capacity at two more planned UK reactors, one of which is expected to be Chinese-designed, as well as financed.