The UK Government is investigating ways to remove China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), the Chinese state-owned nuclear power company, from future UK electricity projects.
The cessation of cooperation would include a new £ 20 billion nuclear plant project in Suffolk, according to the Financial Times.
The modified vote at the Government Summit also affects China General Nuclear’s proposals to build a new power plant in Essex using its own reactor technology and raises questions about the future of the UK’s nuclear programme.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said last year that what concerned the UK was no longer “business as usual” in its relationship with Beijing. The most striking action was the government’s decision to ban the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei from the British 5G network.
The announcement comes at a time when the US and its allies in Europe and Asia are increasingly trying to prevent China from acquiring sensitive technology. They also want to protect supply chains or critical infrastructure from over-reliance on Chinese technology.
The cooperation on nuclear energy dates back to a 2015 agreement endorsed by David Cameron, then British Prime Minister, and Chinese president Xi Jinping. According to that agreement, CGN would become a 20 percent partner in the development of the planned Sizewell C plant on the Suffolk coast, with an option to participate in its construction. The agreement also sealed Chinese investments in the 3.2 gigawatt Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, currently under construction in Somerset.
Under the agreement, CGN has also become the main developer of the proposed Bradwell B plant in Essex, where it intends to install its own Hualong HPR1000 reactor technology.
The design is currently under the approval process of the UK regulatory authorities. But according to the FT, the Chinese plans to build the coastal power plant just 50 km from London would now be a “non-starter”.
“There’s no way CGN is building Bradwell, “the source said, adding, ” Given Huawei’s approach, [Downing Street] will not allow a Chinese company to build a new nuclear power plant.”
Discussions were already underway with the chief developer of Sizewell C, the French state-owned company EDF, as to whether it could find new partners for the project, the person added.
Another person closely involved in the discussions said that the government did not want CGN to be involved in either project, but hoped that the company would withdraw without confrontation. Both CGN and EDF refused to comment.
British ministers are therefore concerned about CGN’s involvement in critical UK infrastructure and believe that Sizewell would be viable without the Chinese company.
This is despite the fact that EDF has used the technical input of CGN engineers for Hinkley Point C, which will work with the European pressurized Reactor technology, a Franco-German design.
The Taishan CGN nuclear power plant in southern China was the first nuclear power plant in the world to use EPR technology. More than 100 CGN engineers were involved at Hinkley Point C, of which about 50 were on site in Somerset.
About EPR, French engineer Philippe Videlaine said the following in the technical Weekly:
“We are very proud of this technology. It is the most modern, efficient technology we have, and moreover it is proven technology as evidenced by the proper functioning of the two EPRs in China.”
Another core expert expressed concern about CGN’s lack of involvement in future projects with EPRs: “it was the Chinese who built the [first operational] EPR.”
The removal of CGN from Sizewell could nevertheless help EDF to attract North American infrastructure investors to the project, which, according to nuclear industry leaders, would otherwise be a challenge with Chinese involvement.