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China’s Involvement in British Nuclear Power Plant Debated

The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, Sept. 14, 2016. A French company has designed the nuclear reactor while a Chinese company is investing in the project.
China's Involvement in British Nuclear Plant Debated
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British Prime Minister Theresa May will let a Chinese company invest in Britain’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power center.

Some people are concerned the decision will open Britain’s nuclear industry to more than investment money from China.

The Hinkley Point C power plant, near Somerset, England, is expected to cost $24 billion. The plant is to be jointly owned by Electricity de France and China General Nuclear Corporation. Electricity de France will supply two nuclear reactors.

Observers say the joint project could clear the way for Chinese involvement in another British energy project. A planned nuclear center at Bradwell, in eastern England, could be the first to use imported Chinese nuclear technology in a Western country.

China General Nuclear Corporation says it has already signed an agreement on possible work at the Bradwell center.

Only a few countries, such as Pakistan, use Chinese reactors. However, approval of the Bradwell B project would be important. British approval of a Chinese designed reactor could open doors for Chinese nuclear exports to the west.

Prime Minister Teresa May halted the Hinkley Point project last July, and then ordered a study of security risks related to the project. However, she cancelled that decision after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the recent Group of 20 nations gathering in Hangzhou.

The British government did amend the contract for the Hinkley Point project. It put in place terms barring the Chinese company from gaining majority ownership of the plant if the French company pulls out.

Critics also question a part of the contract that provides for a fixed electricity rate for 35 years. They argue that energy prices are falling, and are expected to be lower in the future.

Nick Timothy is an advisor to the British leader. Timothy has been critical of China’s part in the project and Chinese investment in Britain’s infrastructure. He said, “No amount of trade and investment should justify allowing a hostile state easy access to the country’s critical national infrastructure.”

Others say security is important to May. However, they say she was seeking Chinese investment because of a major need to increase electricity production. The projects also represent a move away from coal-based electricity production.

For China, British approval of the Hinkley Point project can improve the country’s image in an important industry.

David Gosset is director of the research group Academia Sinica Europaea. He called the possible nuclear deal, “a highly significant form of cooperation.” Gosset added that it might represent an increased level of cooperation between Britain, Europe and China.

“We are now witnessing the constitution of a new China-EU-Europe triangle. It is a slow and complex process, but it will be defining the future of the relations between China and Europe,” he said.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Saibal Dasgupta reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

plant – n. a building or factory where something is made

reactor – n. a large device that produces nuclear energy

contract – n. a legal agreement between two or more parties that requires some kind of action from all involved

infrastructure – n. structures such as roads, ports and energy plants needed for society to operate

triangle n. an object that has three sides and three angles

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