Experts have expressed concern about the prospect of Chinese investment in the UK nuclear power sector, with claims the move could threaten national security.
A final investment decision on the new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, Somerset, could be announced during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s state visit.
Chancellor George Osborne has already announced a £2 billion Government guarantee to secure Chinese funding for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station set to be built by French firm EDF, and indicated that the next step may be a Chinese-designed, Chinese-built nuclear plant at Bradwell in Essex.
But The Times reported senior military and intelligence figures have warned ministers that plans to allow China to take a stake in sensitive national infrastructure could pose a security risk.
One of the Chinese backers is the China National Nuclear Corporation, a state-owned body which helped to develop the country’s nuclear weapons.
“There is a big division between the money men and the security side,” a security source told the newspaper. “The Treasury is in the lead and it isn’t listening to anyone – they see China as an opportunity, but we see the threat.”
The newspaper reported there were concerns among senior military officers and fears that cyber “trapdoors or backdoors” could be inserted into IT systems, allowing Beijing to bypass British security measures.
Academics also expressed surprise at the UK’s willingness to allow Chinese involvement.
Paul Dorfman, founder of the Nuclear Consulting Group, told the newspaper: “No one else in Europe would cut this deal. America wouldn’t dream of letting China have such a part in its critical national infrastructure. The idea the UK is prepared to do so is, frankly, astounding.”
Jeffrey Henderson, professor of international development at Bristol University, said: “There is no other major developed economy on the planet where I can imagine this being allowed to happen.”
Energy and Climate Chance Secretary Amber Rudd rejected concerns about Chinese involvement when she addressed journalists at a Westminster lunch.
She said: “In terms of concerns about China, what I would say is we have the strongest record, strongest level of nuclear regulation, of any country in the world.
“We have the best record of delivering safe nuclear. That is the system that anybody outside of the UK will have to engage in.
“The Chinese can come and engage with us, but is is our regulations, our high standards that they will have to live up to.
“It is right that we are a confident, outward-facing country inviting investment to the UK so that we can rebuild our nuclear industry.”