UK government approves nuclear power plant backed by China but adds conditions

The British government has given the go-ahead for a controversial nuclear power plant financially backed by China, after promising steps would be taken to protect critical national infrastructure.

In so doing, London addressed domestic concerns over the project while keeping relations with Beijing on track, all while ­ensuring Chinese companies’ ­involvement in key British ­infrastructure was kept in check in the future, analysts said.

China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN), which is leading a Chinese consortium’s participation in the project, said it welcomed the British decision on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. The deal is key for China as it could help the country eventually export its nuclear technology to developed country markets.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced a review of the £18 billion (HK$184 billion) project, led by France’s EDF, when she took office more than two months ago. The government said in a statement on Thursday it would impose new security safeguards on future foreign investment in critical infrastructure, and ensure stakes could not be sold without its consent.

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“Having thoroughly reviewed the proposal for Hinkley Point C, we will introduce a series of measures to enhance security and will ensure Hinkley cannot change hands without the government’s agreement,” energy secretary Greg Clark said in a statement.

“Consequently, we have ­decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.”

The government will also take a special share in all future nuclear projects to retain control over any changes in ownership.

The Chinese companies, which are putting up a third of the financing, are backing two other nuclear plants, in Sizewell and Bradwell, and the latter may be ­allowed to use Chinese reactors.

Cui Hongjian, a European ­affairs analyst at the China Institute of International Studies, said London had answered three ­domestic concerns.

“The British government wanted to respond to domestic critics over spying and environmental concerns, and please China by kicking off the halted project while successfully restricting Chinese companies from getting too deeply into its nuclear industry,” Cui said.

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Yan Jin, director of the Centre for European Studies at Renmin University of China, said London needed to cooperate with China in the wake of the vote to leave the EU, but also had concerns.

“It has to work with China, but it does not want to see it become too powerful and pose a threat to its interests,” Yang said.

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