Reports have indicated that China General Nuclear (CGN), which currently has a 20 percent stake in the new Sizewell C plant to be built in Suffolk, is to be removed from the project on security grounds. Nuclear power is key to the Government’s plans to “future-proof” the country’s energy supplies and avoid further price shocks. According to a report in the Financial Times, CGN’s stake in the new £20billion plant would be sold to institutional investors or even floated on the stock market.
They said that, under the plans, the Government would hold the stake until it could be sold on to institutional investors.
But Sir Iain, the former Conservative leader and co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, believes the Government should take on the investment.
He told Sky: “If nothing has told us more about the problems we have with energy supply [than the recent crisis] it tells us critically that, as we head to net zero, we need to understand the true cost of that – and one of the areas that we need to invest in is nuclear energy.
“Successive governments have shelved any decisions which has left us with a whole bunch of power stations about to close and not enough opening up.
“So I think anybody who wants to invest their money would see straight away that nuclear is very much the coming power generator and the government will probably, if necessary, take on this stake themselves and then sell it once they find a reasonable buyer.
“But I think it’s the right thing to do – we cannot have things so important to us, that are strategic really, in the hands of a government that frankly behaves in an intolerable, bullying and despotic manner.”
Muddying the waters is said to be China’s plans to build a new nuclear power plant at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex, which CGN would fully own.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has said “negotiations are ongoing” and “no final decision has been taken”.
Sir Iain, who is the co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, called for the UK to cancel this contract in July.
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He said: “I sat as a secretary of state for six years and I know what a non-denial from Government looks like – and that’s definitely a non-denial.”
Sir Iain, whose group has campaigned in 21 countries to remove China from crucial infrastructure projects, said that also taking China out of Bradwell as well as Sizewell was “very important”.
CGN is also a minority investor in Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in a generation, Hinkley Point C in Somerset.
The plant is being built by EDF, the French energy giant, but CGN has so far committed some £4billion.
It is unlikely to put up more if removed from work at Sizewell and Bradwell.
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Ministers are said to be weighing up whether other investors will be prepared to make up the money.
Reaching an agreement on this will not be easy.
Failure to do so was why Hitachi of Japan first suspended and then last year walked away from plans to build a new £20billion nuclear power plant at Wylfa Newedd on the island of Anglesey off the coast of north Wales.
Sir Iain has suggested the UK government should be ready to put up more money if necessary rather than, as with CGN, simply going for the lowest-cost option.
He said: “Hitachi would have been perfectly okay to do this project with us but the reality was, for them, the numbers didn’t add up because the British government was likely to take the cheapest bidder.
“We’ve got to stop that now – what we’ve got to look at is the most sustainable and secure bidder for these really important stations.”