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The British government is exploring ways to remove China’s state-owned nuclear power company from all future energy projects in the UK, including the consortium that plans to build the new one. Sizewell nuclear power from 20 billion pounds station in Suffolk, according to people close to the discussions.
The mood swings at the top of the government also influence proposals from China Nuclear General (CGN) to build a new plant at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex using its own reactor technology and raise questions about the future program. of nuclear energy of the United Kingdom.
It follows the cold in relations between London and Beijing in recent years on issues ranging from China’s reduction on Hong Kong dissent and the treatment of the Uyghur minority to its management of the original Covid epidemic. -19 in Wuhan.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said last year the UK could no longer conduct it “Business as usual” with Beijing. The highest-level action so far has been the government’s decision to force Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei out of Britain’s 5G network.
The move comes as the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia are increasingly discussing ways to prevent China from gaining sensitive technology, while also ensuring that they are not too dependent on China for technology. in their own supply chains or critical infrastructure.
The collaboration on nuclear energy dates back to a 2015 agreement with China that was approved by David Cameron, the British prime minister at the time, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
That agreement envisages that CGN will become a 20 per cent partner in the development of the planned Sizewell C plant on the Suffolk coast with an option to participate in its construction. It also sealed Chinese investment in the 3.2 gigawatt Hinkley Point C nuclear facility, which is currently under construction in Somerset.
Under the agreement, CGN has also become the main developer of the proposed Bradwell B plant in Essex, in which it plans to install its own Hualong HPR1000 reactor technology.
The concept currently goes through the UK’s regulatory approval procedure. But a person familiar with the business said Chinese plans to build the power plant on the coast just 50 km from London were now a beginner.
“There’s no chance in hell that CGN is building Bradwell,” they said, adding, “After the approach we’ve seen to Huawei, [Downing Street] they will not let a Chinese company build a new nuclear power plant. “
Discussions were already underway with the main developer of Sizewell C, the utility supported by the French state, EDF, to find out if it could find new partners for the project, the person added.
Another person close to the discussions said that Number 10 did not want CGN in either of the two projects, but hoped that the company would withdraw without any confrontation. Both CGN and EDF declined to comment.
British ministers are concerned about CGN’s involvement in critical infrastructure in the UK and believe that Sizewell would be feasible without the involvement of Chinese society.
This despite EDF using the technical input of CGN engineers at Hinkley Point C, which will operate using the technology of the European Pressurized Reactor, a Franco-German design.
CGN’s Taishan nuclear power plant in southern China is the first in the world to operate with EPR technology and more than 100 CGN engineers have been involved with Hinkley Point C, about 50 on site in Somerset.
But a nuclear expert expressed nervousness over the CGN’s lack of participation in future projects involving EPRs: “It is the Chinese who have built the [first operational] EPR. “
The removal of CGN from Sizewell could however help EDF attract investors in North American infrastructure towards the project, which nuclear industry leaders would say would otherwise be problematic with Chinese participation.
The United States put CGN on a blacklist of exports in 2019 accusing it of stealing U.S. technology for military purposes, while the Trump administration warned the UK against Chinese participation in nuclear energy.
Theresa May, the former prime minister, has come under a “bigot” for forcing CGN out of Hinkley Point C, according to a British government figure. May ordered a review, which allowed Somerset’s project to go ahead but only with certain stringent conditions attached.
The government refused to confirm or deny that the government no longer wanted CGN to participate in the nuclear program. “All nuclear projects in the UK are conducted under robust and independent regulation to meet the UK’s stringent legal, regulatory and national safety requirements, ensuring that our interests are protected,” a spokesperson said.