The China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), the country’s state-run energy corporation, could acquire a multibillion-pound majority stake in eight UK nuclear plants.

The potential acquisition, which includes the Sizewell plant in Suffolk and Dungeness in Kent, reignited debates around China’s involvement in the UK’s nuclear industry.

Earlier this year, Centrica, a subsidiary of British Gas, put its 20% stake in the power stations up for sale. EDF Energy holds the majority share, but according to the Sunday Times, CGN is readying a bid to acquire a 49% stake, indicating that EDF Energy could be looking to offload some its shares. Power Technology contacted EDF Energy asking for more information on asset sales, but the company declined to comment.

China’s interest in UK nuclear plants

If successful, the deal could give China greater access to critical infrastructure projects in the UK.

University College London Energy Institute senior researcher Paul Dorfman said: “It’s entirely credible [that China would be allowed to buy the stake] in the context of what the British Government is doing.

“There is no other OECD country that would allow China to own any of its critical infrastructure, let alone its nuclear infrastructure.

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By GlobalData

“EDF is in financial difficulties and has been for some time. It’s looking to sell off whatever it can sell off. It’s worried about debt, its credit rating…plus its waste and decommissioning liabilities.”

The sale of the shares could attract interest from pension and insurance funds, but due to the reactors’ limited shelf lives, the pool of bidders is currently small.

The eight nuclear plants generate 8.9GW of electricity, supplying around 20% of current UK needs. EDF Energy bought the plants for £12.5bn in 2008, with Centrica taking a 20% stake valued at £1.7bn.

CGN is also working with EDF Energy to develop a new nuclear power station at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex.

Hong Kong-based Daiwa Securities Group analyst Anna Lu said: “Investing in UK nuclear plants and starting to build a track record may help CGN to gain more potential new projects in UK, and later in other European countries, which will be beneficial for China to export China’s own nuclear technology.”

In 2016, UK officials delayed approval of the £18bn Hinkley Point C project due to security concerns over CGN’s one-third stake.