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Government exploring ban on China’s involvement in UK nuclear power

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The UK Government could be about to axe China’s involvement from UK nuclear power projects, with state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group set to be kicked off the Sizewell project.

In a Gossage article published in the September 2020 issue of Electrical Review, our columnist described how Conservative backbenchers were trying to pressure the Government to limit CGN’s role in the UK’s nuclear industry. Back then it was a case of preventing the firm from showcasing its HPR1000 reactor technology on UK soil, but it seems that things have progressed dramatically since then. 

It’s funny how the worry then was that the Chinese would walk away from projects in Hinkley Point and Sizewell, whereas now it seems that the UK Government wants to prevent any involvement by the Chinese state-owned firm. 

Relations between London and Beijing have soured in recent years, as the United States steps up pressure on allies to protect its intellectual property from China. That means CGN could be blocked from being a 20% partner in the development of Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast, while it’ll also be prevented from constructing the new power station at Bradwell. Hinkley Point C will also likely have to go-ahead without Chinese investment. 

Speaking to the Financial Times, a source noted, “There isn’t a chance in hell that CGN builds Bradwell.

“Given the approach we’ve seen to Huawei, [Downing Street] aren’t going to be letting a Chinese company build a new nuclear power station.”

EDF have reportedly already been approached to see if it could find new partners to go-ahead with Sizewell C without any involvement from CGN, although there’s no word on whether a partner has yet been found. 

Of course, there are worries within the sector that Hinkley Point C may not be viable without involvement from CGN. That’s because it utilises European Pressurised Reactor technology, which was first successfully installed at a CGN facility in Southern China. 

In fact, more than 100 CGN engineers have already been involved on-site at Hinkley Point C, and removing them from the project could cause a significant brain drain that will impact the development of the new nuclear power station. Meanwhile, in Somerset, CGN is said to have 50 engineers. 

Currently the UK Government is reported to be hoping that CGN will back down without confrontation, although that has yet to happen. If it does, Downing Street is hoping that American investors will come forward to help the projects progress, which is only possible without any Chinese involvement.

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