The UK has opened the way for the first Chinese-designed nuclear power plant in the west, saying Beijing could use Britain to launch a global rollout of its technology. “It’s a lot of money compared to coal, but we want a source of low-carbon electricity.”
Amber Rudd, energy secretary, said she wanted Beijing to take the lead in developing new nuclear plants in Britain. She said China was expected to lead the construction of a Beijing-designed nuclear power plant in Essex, in eastern England, its first in the west, under a proposed joint deal with EDF, the French energy group, to build a new generation of UK reactors.
“They very much want to have their design up and running in the UK,” she told the Financial Times on a visit to Beijing. “That’s because we have such tough standards of regulation everyone can have confidence they are safe and show that they have a great operation to take elsewhere.”
Her comments came as chancellor George Osborne announced during the same visit an initial £2bn government guarantee for the Hinkley Point nuclear power station in south-west England in an attempt to boost the much delayed project, which has major Chinese backing.
Mr Osborne said the £24.5bn project, to be built by EDF to a French design in partnership with two Chinese companies, would “open the door to unprecedented co-operation” between the UK and China on more nuclear stations.
The UK government’s strong drive to build commercial ties with China, including in a sector as sensitive as nuclear power, has raised eyebrows among its western allies. Senior US officials complained privately this year about London’s “constant accommodation” of China after Mr Osborne signed up to become a founding member of its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
But Mr Osborne said he believed Britain and China stood on the brink of “a golden decade” of co-operation, adding: “No economy in the world is as open to Chinese investment as the UK.”
Ms Rudd said China would “definitely be part” of building Britain’s next generation of nuclear power stations, with five planned in the short term but she also expected French and Japanese reactor designs to be in the mix.
The chancellor and Ms Rudd’s nuclear diplomacy was intended to pave the way for a final investment decision to be taken on Hinkley Point in time for a state visit to London by President Xi Jinping in October.
State-backed EDF is trying to finalise a deal with its Chinese partners on funding. Mr Osborne’s initial £2bn guarantee, which could rise if EDF meets certain conditions, is intended to bring the talks to a head.