French energy firm EDF has signed an investment deal with China to build the UK’s new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Somerset.
China’s General Nuclear Power Corporation (CNG) will own 33.5 per cent of shares in the multi-billion pound project with EDF keeping 66.5 per cent.
The two companies will also cooperate on building a further two nuclear power stations in Sizewell, Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.
The Chinese firm will hold a 20 per cent stake in the Sizewell development and up to a 66.5 per cent stake in the Bradwell B project.
"Today marks a big step forward for EDF's 30 year partnership with our Chinese partner CGN,” said EDF chairman Jean-Bernard Levy.
"Our ambitious nuclear projects are strongly supported by the governments of the UK, China and France and they will bring benefits to all three countries. I am confident that our experience and ability mean we will successfully deliver Hinkley Point C and subsequent projects.”
While the final investment decision is expected within weeks, it has already been announced that the development will cost £18bn, £2bn more than previously expected. The increase was said to be a result of inflation.
Also the launch date has been moved back to 2025, two years later than the original schedule foresaw.
"Entering the UK's nuclear market marks a new phase for CGN,” said He Yu, chairman CGN.
"CGN is highly committed to delivering safe, cost efficient, and sustainable energy and to supporting the UK's goal of becoming a low-carbon society."
The announcement was made on the second full day of a visit to the UK by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Construction of the Hinkley Point C plant is expected to create 20,000 jobs and support a further 900 during its 60-year lifespan.
However, the scheme has been criticised due to the time it will take to generate power, as well as the so-called strike price of £92 per megawatt hour guaranteed to EDF for 35 years.
"Hinkley Point C is likely to be the most expensive power station ever built anywhere and it is largely families and business who are picking up the tab,” said Lisa Nandy, shadow energy and climate change secretary.
"I'm deeply concerned about the costs for households, and particularly vulnerable groups like pensioners. That is why I have written to the Public Accounts Committee and asked them to scrutinise in detail the terms of the agreement ministers have reached."
Expected to cover 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs, the Hinkley Point project also aims to create 1,000 apprenticeships alongside £14 million of investment in education and training.
EDF announced preferred bidders in contracts worth a total of more than £1.5bn earlier this year. It is now estimated that contracts worth more than 60 per cent of the construction cost for Hinkley Point C will be placed with UK firms.
"Hinkley Point C and successive nuclear projects will guarantee the UK the reliable, secure low-carbon electricity it needs in the future,” said EDF Energy CEO Vincent de Rivaz.
"Nuclear power will save customers money compared with other energy options and provide a huge boost to British industrial strength, jobs and skills both in Britain and abroad."
GBM union’s national officer Phil Whitehurst said the union welcomed the partnership, but that it would continue campaigning against giving the go-ahead for Chinese nuclear technology to be used in a new nuclear power station at Bradwell.
"The UK needs nuclear power to provide low-carbon base load electricity to keep the lights on the eight to 10 days per month when renewables are not generating power for the grid," he said.