Britain announces Chinese companies to be allowed majority ownership of nuclear power plants

BEIJING, China – Britain’s finance minister announced Thursday his government will allow a Chinese company to own a majority stake in a new nuclear power plant as it tries to curb demand for fossil fuels.

George Osborne made the announcement while he visited a nuclear power plant in southern China. It said a Chinese role in a British nuclear power plant would probably start as a minority stake but could increase to majority ownership.

Osborne’s statement mentioned no specific project but Britain’s first nuclear power plant in 20 years is being developed by France’s EDF in Hinkley in southwestern England.

Osborne is leading a five-day trade mission that marks a return to normal exchanges after Beijing derailed a planned visit by Prime Minister David Cameron in April in retaliation for the British leader having met the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Beijing agreed Tuesday to make London a centre for handling investment denominated in China’s tightly controlled currency as the two sides set aside a spat over the Dalai Lama to expand financial ties. On Monday, Britain unveiled simpler visa rules aimed at luring Chinese tourists.

On Thursday, Osborne was visiting the Taishan nuclear power station in Guangdong province in China’s south. The plant is a collaboration between EDF and the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Co.

“While any initial Chinese stake in a nuclear power project is likely to be a minority stake, over time stakes in subsequent new power stations could be majority stakes,” said a British Treasury statement. “Any investment from any country has to comply with rigorous regulatory standards for safety and security.”

Earlier, the two governments signed an agreement to collaborate on civilian nuclear power, including investment, technology and construction.

China has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear power industry. It relies on foreign technology for its generating stations but is trying to develop its own reactors and other equipment.