Ex-minister: May had objected to Chinese investment in nuclear plant

British Prime Minister Theresa May had "raised objections" to Chinese investment in a controversial new nuclear power plant during the previous coalition government, former business secretary Vince Cable said on Saturday.

"Certainly when we were in government Theresa May was, I think, quite clear she was unhappy about the rather gung-ho approach to Chinese investment that we had ... and as I recall raised objections to [the] Hinkley [plant] at that time," Cable told BBC's Today programmme.

Critics rounded on May's government on Friday over its surprise delay in the final approval for the 18-billion-pound (24-billion-dollar) Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in south-western England.

It had been expected to rubber stamp the project after the board of French energy firm EDF voted late Thursday to proceed with building two reactors at Hinkley Point despite concerns over the financial risks to the company.

"I, personally, am quite positive about Chinese investment in the UK and in this particular case the Chinese are not involved in the operational side of nuclear power - it's the funding," Cable told the broadcaster.

"But I think we've got a different prime minister with a different set of priorities, and projects of this kind are going to be looked at through a different filter," he said.

Cable is a Liberal Democrat who served with Conservative May while she was home secretary in the 2010-2015 coalition cabinet under her predecessor, David Cameron.

May's government has given no reason for the delay in approving the Hinkley Point C project, leaving observers to speculate that it could be linked to fluctuations in energy prices, the growing cost to the public, or concerns over a Chinese state-run nuclear firm joining the project.

The government agreed in 2013 to pay 92.5 pounds for each megawatthour of electricity from the plant, but wholesale energy prices have slumped since then.

It had projected public subsidies to the 60-year project, which is scheduled to begin producing electricity in 2025, would reach some 6 billion pounds (7.9 billion dollars).

But the projected cost of clean-energy subsidies has now risen to 30 billion pounds, the National Audit Office said in a report inmid July.

Observers have also noted that Nick Timothy, May's former chief of staff, wrote an article in October accusing Cameron's government of "selling our national security to China."

"No amount of trade and investment should justify allowing a hostile state easy access to the country's critical national infrastructure," Timothy argued on the website Conservative Home, which says it is "independent of the Conservative Party but supportive of it."

State-controlled China General Nuclear Power Corporation, or CGN, agreed last year to fund one-third of the plant's cost in partnership with EDF.

That deal paves the way for the potential use of Chinese nuclear technology in another plant to be built at Bradwell in Essex, close to London. 

Last update: Sat, 30/07/2016 - 18:54
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