The UK government is investigating ways to block China General Nuclear (CGN) from future power projects in the UK, according to media reports citing government sources. According to both Bloomberg and the Independent, unnamed sources confirmed the original report by the Financial Times that first revealed the UK government’s intentions.
This would result in CGN being removed from the French-Chinese consortium which is planning to build the £20 billion ($27.6 billion) Sizewell C NPP on the Suffolk coast and another project in Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex, which was expected to use CGN’s Hualong One reactor technology.
“There isn’t a chance in hell that CGN builds Bradwell,” a source cited by the Financial Times claimed, noting that “given the approach we’ve seen to Huawei, [UK authorities] aren’t going to be letting a Chinese company build a new nuclear power station.”
The source also revealed that UK authorities were already in talks with EDF, the main developer of Sizewell C, regarding the possibility of finding new partners for the project. EDF in June called on the UK government to deliver the legislation that would underpin the financing of Sizewell C, saying it was now essential.
The UK and China have been cooperating on nuclear power projects since a deal reached by former Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015. CGN is an investor with a 33% share in the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant under construction in Somerset.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing on 26 July that "The British should earnestly provide an open, fair and non discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies." China and the UK are important trade and investment partners for each other, he added. "It is in the interests of both sides to conduct practical cooperation in the spirit of mutual benefit and a win-win result."
Reflecting the stance of the US administration, the UK government has been increasingly critical of China’s policies, namely with regard to its stance on Hong Kong, the alleged mistreatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, and the handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan province. Last July Boris Johnson’s administration ordered that telecom equipment supplied by Chinese telecommunications company Huawei be removed from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027. The decision was made following advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the impact of US sanctions against Huawei. The UK national security adviser also ordered an investigation into the takeover of the UK’s major chip producer by the Chinese firm Nexperia NV.
Ironically, at the G7 summit in June the UK and China pledged to deepen ties in tech and scientific innovation with a number of measures, including working together to strengthen the resilience and security of critical supply chains. However, banning CGN will raise wider questions about the future of the UK’s nuclear energy programme.
CGN has already invested in the Hinkley Point C NPP, which is the only new nuclear project under construction, with the majority of the country’s existing fleet of power plants due to be decommissioned over the next decade. In its 2020 energy white paper,the government said that it would bring one new nuclear project to the point of final investment decision (FID) by the end of this Parliament. That is now looking increasingly unlikely.
A spokesperson for the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “Nuclear power has an important role to play in the UK’s low-carbon energy future, as we work towards our world-leading target to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050."
"All nuclear projects in the UK are conducted under robust and independent regulation to meet the UK’s rigorous legal, regulatory and national security requirements, ensuring our interests are protected.”