LONDON/BEIJING (Reuters) - China could build and own a nuclear power plant in Britain in future, UK finance minister George Osborne said on Monday, potentially paving the way for China's first nuclear project in the West.
Chinese companies are expected to help finance the 16 billion pound ($25 bln) Hinkley Point nuclear plant in southwest England and Osborne said their participation could lead to China developing and owning a future nuclear plant, possibly at Bradwell, a site earmarked for development in eastern England.
He also said the British government would provide 2 billion pounds in initial support for the Hinkley Point project, which is owned by the British subsidiary of French energy company EDF with China General Nuclear Corp (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) expected to be investors.
"This civil nuclear cooperation ... opens the door to majority Chinese ownership of a subsequent nuclear project in Bradwell," Osborne said during a visit to Beijing, presenting Britain as one of the West's most open countries to Chinese investments.
Exporting its technology to Britain would be a boost to the credibility of China's nuclear industry.
However, while Osborne said Britain welcomed the "potential for majority Chinese investment in future nuclear projects in the United Kingdom", others have voiced opposition.
Trade union GMB has been a vocal opponent of Chinese involvement in the country's nuclear new build program.
"The UK Government is relying on foreign state-owned companies to fund the development of new nuclear stations having stood down UK state-owned companies to do the job that the private sector is clearly not prepared to do," said Gary Smith, GMB National Secretary for energy.
The Bradwell site is also owned by EDF's British subsidiary.
"The UK will benefit from this long-standing co-operation and the extensive and proven capability of CGN and CNNC in the construction and operation of nuclear plants," an EDF Energy spokeswoman said, without elaborating on plans for the site.
Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change, which deals with the country's nuclear new build program, said the development of the Bradwell site was a commercial matter for EDF.
For years China depended on Western nuclear technology to build up its nuclear power fleet but it has now developed its first domestically produced nuclear reactor design, named Hualong 1.
Premier Li Keqiang told an annual parliamentary meeting earlier this year that China aimed to increase its share of global sales in a range of advanced industries, including implementing major projects in nuclear power. However, it still needs to show it can build and safely operate reactors at home.
In Britain, the Hinkley Point project has been slow to take shape as construction delays on other EDF nuclear projects and difficulties raising financial support have pushed back the final investment decision.
The British government announced a first tranche of a state loan guarantee worth up to 16 billion pounds on Monday, saying further amounts would be subject to EDF meeting certain conditions.
"It is further progress toward a final investment decision," said Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, the French utility's British subsidiary.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Karolin Schaps; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Susan Fenton)