British spies are to monitor cybersecurity at nuclear power plants built by Chinese firms in the UK amid fears software could be illicitly installed so the reactors could be controlled remotely.
Concerns have been raised about the wisdom of asking Chinese companies with links to their country’s armed forces to help build potentially three nuclear plants in England.
It is technically possible for “trapdoors” to be secretly built into software to allow a third party to take over a nuclear plant and there are fears this could be done by agents sent by Beijing in case of a breakdown in diplomatic relations.
However a spokesman for the listening station GCHQ told The Times newspaper that it had a “remit to support the cybersecurity of private sector-owned, critical national infrastructure projects including in the civil nuclear sector and nuclear new builds, when invited to do so by the lead government department involved”.
A computer worm called Stuxnet is believed to have been designed to damage Iranian nuclear facilities, possibly by the US and Israeli secret services.
Researchers have found it was designed to make nuclear centrifuges explode in a way that would appear to be an accident.
Having a trapdoor built into a plant’s software would make the task of causing damage to a nuclear plant much easier.
It is expected that the UK and China will agree a deal for Chinese firms to work with French power company EDF to build a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, Somerset, and another at Sizewell in Suffolk. They could also build a new facility at Bradwell in Essex.