George Osborne has announced that Chinese companies will be permitted to own a majority stake in future projects to build nuclear power stations in Britain.
The ground-breaking decision could see the first deal struck as early as next week, with Chinese investment now considered for a new £14 billion plant at the Hinckley C site.
The Chancellor saved the announcement for the last day of his visit to promote British business in the Far East. It has been underpinned by a memorandum which, he said, was signed in Beijing earlier this week.
Mr Osborne said the deal had the long-term potential to mean cheaper energy bills for British customers, though initially Chinese companies are only expected to hold a minority stake in any one project.
A government statement said that “over time, stakes in subsequent new power stations could be majority stakes”.
Appearing at the Taishan nuclear plant in southern China, the Chancellor said: “Today is another demonstration of the next big step in the relationship between Britain and China - the world's oldest civil nuclear power and the world's fastest growing civil nuclear power.
“It is an important potential part of the Government's plan for developing the next generation of nuclear power in Britain. It means the potential of more investment and jobs in Britain, and lower long-term energy costs for consumers.”
The Hinkley C site in Somerset is due to house the first new nuclear power plant in the UK since 1995. The project is being led by the French state-owned firm EDF, which has been looking for partners to share costs.
EDF has been speaking to three Chinese nuclear giants about Hinkley C – CGN, CNNC and SNPTC – all of which have received visits from Mr Osborne this week.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the UK should welcome Chinese involvement in its energy market, as long as they meet safety regulations. As part of the deal, the UK-based International Nuclear Service will begin sharing its expertise on radioactive waste management, and will start training up Chinese technicians later this month.
The BBC reported that Mr Davey said last weekend that he anticipated a “massive wave” of investment from China, Japan and Korea which will secure the UK’s energy requirements for the future.
Today he said: “This is an exciting development, strengthening our relationship with China in a way that will benefit both countries.”