The U.K. will allow Chinese companies to buy stakes in its nuclear power plants as Britain seeks to boost investment in low-carbon electricity and stave off the risk of blackouts.
Initial investments are likely to be minority stakes and future stakes in new power stations could be majority holdings, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said today at the Taishan atomic plant in southern China, according to an e-mailed statement from the Treasury. The two nations earlier signed an accord in Beijing on civil nuclear collaboration.
“It is an important potential part of the government’s plan for developing the next generation of nuclear power in Britain,” Osborne said in the statement. “It means the potential of more investment and jobs in Britain, and lower long-term energy costs for consumers.”
The U.K. is trying to spur 110 billion pounds ($177 billion) of spending on new power stations and grid infrastructure through 2020 to replace older generators and reduce carbon emissions. Fifteen of Britain’s 16 nuclear reactors are due to close by 2023, and ministers on March 26 set out an atomic strategy to kick-start the industry 18 years after the last reactor was built.
The probability of power disruptions in the U.K. will increase to about once in 12 years in 2015 from once in 47 years due to closing power plants, the energy regulator Ofgem said in June. The former government’s chief scientific adviser, David King, said last year that Britain risks blackouts this decade if it doesn’t hasten plans to build new nuclear plants.
The agreement with China covers cooperation on investment, technology, construction and expertise in the nuclear industry, according to the statement.
It’s the second cooperation accord on nuclear power announced by the U.K. in six weeks. On Sept. 5, the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change said it signed a memorandum of understanding to allow Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy company, to invest in British projects. That followed a pledge in March by Britain and France to work together on research and development of nuclear technologies.
The government has been in talks for more than a year with Electricite de France SA to guarantee the price of power for a new nuclear plant planned in southwestern England by the French utility. Areva SA and China General Nuclear Power Corp. plan to become shareholders in the EDF project, three people with knowledge of the matter said yesterday.