State-owned Chinese company bids to build second UK nuclear plant

London: A Chinese state-owned company blacklisted in the United States has applied to build a second nuclear plant in Britain amid growing concern in UK government’s ranks about Chinese investment in critical infrastructure.

China General Nuclear Power Group’s application creates a new headache for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is already facing a backbench revolt over his approval of Chinese firm Huawei to supply Britain’s 5G networks.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The UK does not have an investment review process like Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board.

However, Johnson has flagged a tightening of foreign investment rules in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent alarm about dependence on China.

CGN, on Wednesday, submitted its planning application to build the Sizewell reactor in Suffolk, England with its French partner EDF.

The project, estimated to cost at least £20 billion ($37 billion) would be financed through private investment and construction would begin by the end of 2021 if approvals are given.

CGN’s initial stake in the project would be 20 per cent compared to EDF’s 80 per cent.

The same consortium was approved to build Britain’s Hinkley Point power station in 2016.

The then prime minister Theresa May temporarily halted the project over concerns about Chinese investment in critical infrastructure but eventually gave her go-ahead.

In August last year the Trump Administration placed CGN on the US entity list accusing it of acting contrary to American national security. The US has accused the company of stealing US nuclear technology for military use.

The Trump administration has previously banned a Chinese state-owned company that wants to build a nuclear reactor in Britain.
The Trump administration has previously banned a Chinese state-owned company that wants to build a nuclear reactor in Britain.

Sizewell’s approval process is expected to take at least 18 months at the same time as the government is being urged to tighten foreign investment rules.

Former Conservative party leader and backbench MP Iain Duncan Smith told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that China must not be allowed to make any further inroads into the UK’s critical infrastructure.

“We simply cannot go further down the road of becoming more dependent on China,” he said.

“Right now we need to lessen our already excessive dependence on China.

“It is now absolutely critical that we and the rest of the free world review all of our dealings with China as we come out of this COVID pandemic.

“The Sizewell project would be the perfect place to start,” he said.

But EDF said the new power station would provide a huge economic stimulus to the pandemic-battered economy.

“Around 25,000 employment opportunities and 1000 apprenticeships will be created during construction,” the company said in a statement.

Julia Pyke, the director of the Sizewell C project suggested CGN’s involvement in the second reactor was still to be determined.

“CGN are a financial partner for EDF in Hinkley, for Sizewell that’s a decision that’s going to be made in the future as to whether or not CGN wants to join in the construction phase of Sizewell,” she said.

However, the company’s official Twitter profile created for the Sizewell project features both EDF and CGN’s logos.