The UK Government has given the go ahead to Chinese companies taking a stake in British nuclear power, but environmentalists are not happy.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced that the government is to give the go ahead to Chinese companies taking a stake – including potential future majority stakes – in the development of the next generation of British nuclear power.
He made the announcement at Taishan nuclear power station in Southern China on the final day of his visit to China. Taishan is a collaboration between French energy company EDF and the China General Nuclear Power Company.
While any initial Chinese stake in a nuclear power project is likely to be a minority stake, over time stakes in subsequent new power stations could be majority stakes. Any investment from any country has to comply with rigorous regulatory standards for safety and security.
Today's announcement follows the signing this week in Beijing of a new memorandum of understanding on civil nuclear collaboration witnessed by the Chancellor and his Chinese counterpart, Ma Kai. It was signed for the UK by the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Deighton.
The memorandum sets the strategic framework for collaboration on investment, technology, construction and expertise.
Today's announcement is the first step and signal by the UK government as part of this memorandum of understanding.
The memorandum was signed as part of the Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFD) between the two countries, and forms the centrepiece of the Chancellor's visit.
As well as supporting Chinese investment in Britain, the memorandum will make sure that British companies such as Rolls Royce, International Nuclear Services (INS) and engineering companies like Mott MacDonald can be part of China's multi billion pound new nuclear programme.
As part of this, the Chancellor has announced that the UK based International Nuclear Service has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Nuclear Power Engineering Company Ltd this week, to share UK experience on radioactive waste management, and will start with some initial training activities for Chinese technicians in the UK later in October.
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 Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Deighton, said:
"This is another significant step forward in demonstrating our commitment to delivering our new nuclear programme."
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward 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."
But responding to the announcement Friends of the Earth Director of Policy and Campaigns, Craig Bennett, said:
“Make no mistake, this is a bad deal for taxpayers – the Government has chosen to give enormous long-term hand outs to Chinese and French companies when they could be developing a world class renewable industry in the UK.
“The reality is that nuclear power takes decades to build, but climate change and energy challenges are upon us now – this focus on nuclear distracts from more urgent priorities such as delivering energy efficiency to households who are suffering rocketing energy bills due to the rising price of gas.
“The Government must listen to investors who are calling for a 2030 electricity decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill and focus on the measures to deliver it.”