The UK government has given the controversial Hinkley Point nuclear power station the go-ahead.
The decision was due to be announced in July but prime minister Theresa May abruptly called a halt as partners were sitting down for the signing ceremony amid security concerns about the deal, which is to be partly financed by state-owned China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN).
As part of changes to the deal, the government has made it more difficult for major infrastructure projects to transfer ownership in the future, in a move aimed at enhancing security over foreign involvement in such projects.
A key part of the modified deal is a new legal framework, which will also apply to all future foreign investment in Britain’s so-called “critical” infrastructure, such as nuclear energy projects.
A revised agreement with EDF will give the government the power of veto over the sale of the French company’s controlling stake in the project prior to the completion of construction. The government will also be able to intervene in the sale of EDF’s stake once Hinkley is operational.
“After Hinkley, the British government will take a special share in all future nuclear new build projects,” said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
“This will ensure that significant stakes cannot be sold without the government’s knowledge or consent.”
In the future developers or operators of nuclear sites will have to notify the Office for Nuclear Regulation about any proposed change of ownership or part-ownership.
Continuing government approval will be essential to the ownership and control of critical infrastructure in the future, it has promised.
“These changes will bring Britain’s policy framework for the ownership and control of critical infrastructure into line with other major economies,” said the department.
The UK’s eight power stations generate around 20% of power but almost all are due to close by 2030.
“This underlines why the government needs to take decisions now on how we will ensure we have sufficient and diverse supply fit for future generations,” said Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.
“Hinkley Point C will provide 7% of Britain’s electricity needs for 60 years. UK-based businesses will benefit from more than 60% of the £18bn value of the project, and 26,000 jobs and apprenticeships will be created.”
CGN welcomed the move. “We are delighted that the British government has decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation,” it said.
“We are now able to move forward and deliver much needed nuclear capacity at Hinkley Point, Sizewell and Bradwell with our strategic partners, EDF, and provide the UK with safe, reliable and sustainable low-carbon energy.”
David Elmes, head of the Global Energy Research Network at Warwick Business School, said the government had been “boxed in” to a deal that was expensive with an eight-year delay.
“This is what being painted into a corner feels like,” he said. “After a surprise delay by the new prime minister, the UK government’s confirmation of the deal to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point locks UK bill payers into an expensive source of energy for decades to come.”