15 Sep (NucNet): The British government has decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation at Hinkley Point C in England after a comprehensive review of the project and a revised agreement with EDF, it has been announced.
However, ministers will impose a new legal framework for future foreign investment in Britain’s critical infrastructure, which will include nuclear energy and apply after Hinkley.
A statement this morning said the framework includes rules for future foreign investment in British critical infrastructure which mean that after Hinkley, the British government will take a special share in all future nuclear new-build projects. This will ensure that significant stakes cannot be sold without the government’s knowledge or consent.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation will be directed to require notice from developers or operators of nuclear sites of any change of ownership or part-ownership. This will allow the government to advise or direct the ONR to take action to “protect national security as a result of a change in ownership”.
There will be reforms to the government’s approach to the ownership and control of critical infrastructure to ensure that the full implications of foreign ownership are scrutinised for the purposes of national security, the statement said.
The agreement will be confirmed in an exchange of letters between the government and France’s largely state-owned utility EDF, which is building the station with investment from China. Existing legal powers, and the new legal framework, will mean that the government is able to intervene in the sale of EDF’s stake once Hinkley is operational.
China’s China General Nuclear Company, the investor in Hinkley Point C, is also aiming to take a share in the construction of two EPR units at Sizewell in Sussex and a Chinese Hualong One reactor Bradwell in Essex. Initial agreements for both projects were signed with EDF last year. Those agreements say CGN would have a 20% stake in Sizewell and a 66.5% stake in Bradwell.
Business secretary Greg Clark said: “Having thoroughly reviewed the proposal for Hinkley Point C, we will introduce a series of measures to enhance security and will ensure Hinkley cannot change hands without the government’s agreement. Consequently, we have decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation.”
He said: “Britain needs to upgrade its supplies of energy, and we have always been clear that nuclear is an important part of ensuring our future low-carbon energy security.”
The deal to build the £18bn (€21bn, $23bn) station had been due to be approved with a £6bn investment from China before incoming prime minister Theresa May placed the project under review in July 2016.
Chinese officials reacted by giving a series of veiled warnings that a decision by Britain to halting their investment in UK nuclear would be seen as a snub and would risk a supposed golden era of relations between the two countries.
EDF has said Hinkley Point C will provide 7% of the UK’s electricity over its estimated 60-year lifespan and is scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2025, several years later than planned. It will be the UK’s first new nuclear station since Sizewell B, which began commercial operation 20 years ago, in September 1995.