Chinese companies are to be allowed to take majority stakes in new nuclear power stations in Britain, George Osborne has said.
The investment will be underpinned by a memorandum signed in Beijing this week and the first deal could be struck within days, when the go-ahead is given for a new £14bn nuclear plant at the Hinckley C site in Somerset.
Speaking at Taishan nuclear power station in southern China, Mr Osborne 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 Treasury said the memorandum would ensure that British companies such as Rolls- Royce can benefit from China’s multi-billion-pound civil nuclear programme, while the UK-based International Nuclear Service will also be sharing expertise in radioactive waste management.
EDF has been negotiating with three Chinese nuclear companies on the Hinkley C project – CGN, CNNC and SNPTC – all of which have been seen by the Chancellor this week. Hinkley C is due to be the UK’s first new nuclear power station since 1995.
French energy giant EDF is the main company behind the project, but has been looking for partners to share the costs. Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: “This is an exciting development, strengthening our relationship with China in a way that will benefit both countries. Investment from Chinese companies in the UK electricity market is welcome, providing they can meet our stringent regulatory and safety requirements.”
Caroline Flint, the shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: “Nuclear power will have an important role as part of a more secure and clean energy mix in the future.
“We support the development of new nuclear power stations in Britain and welcome investment. We will look carefully at whatever deal the Government agrees when they announce it to Parliament.”
But the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “Given that the companies negotiating with the Government will get a price far above current costs, this looks like a terrible deal for the taxpayer.
“There remain serious safety concerns about nuclear and no safe, reliable solution for dealing with the toxic waste it creates. By signing off this deal, the Government is tying us into a costly, inflexible and outdated technology.”