| LONDON/PARIS, Sept 14
LONDON/PARIS, Sept 14 Theresa May could announce
as soon as Thursday whether Britain will go ahead with a $24
billion nuclear power project, laying down a marker on energy
policy and her approach to investment from China.
Hours before a deal was due to be signed in July, the new
prime minister stunned investors by putting it on hold. May said
she needed time to assess the terms of a project that would see
French utility EDF build Britain's first new nuclear
reactor in decades, backed by $8 billion of Chinese cash.
After a review of the deal, including on the delicate issue
of whether Chinese investment in nuclear infrastructure is a
threat to national security, she has promised a decision this
One source told Reuters May was prepared to approve the
deal, but with a set of new conditions. Another source said the
decision would be announced in parliament on Thursday. British
media reported that May would announce conditional approval
A spokeswoman for the business department declined to
comment beyond confirming the decision would come this month. A
spokeswoman for May said no decision had been taken yet.
May's options are limited.
EDF's board narrowly approved the deal over concerns the
up-front costs could jeopardise the firm's survival. Beijing has
signalled any decision to cut it out of the deal would affect
future Chinese investment in Britain, and critics say the
British government has agreed to pay too much for the plant's
May, a former interior minister, has asked her security
advisers to look at the implications of allowing China to invest
in the nuclear industry, with the Hinkley deal being seen as a
gateway to closer Chinese involvement in British nuclear energy.
According to a former colleague, ex-business minister Vince
Cable, May had expressed concern at the "gung-ho" attitude that
her predecessor David Cameron took towards courting Chinese
One of May's top aides, writing last year, said security
experts were worried the state-owned Chinese group China General
Nuclear Power Corp would in time gain access to computer systems
that might allow it to shut down Britain's energy production one
A blueprint for averting such a threat may already exist.
China has a foothold in another key British infrastructure
sector through telecoms firm Huawei, which supplies the software
and equipment that channels phone calls and data around Britain.
In 2013 then-prime minister Cameron ordered a security
review into Huawei's operations and concluded that greater
scrutiny was warranted - including allowing Britain's GCHQ spy
agency to take a leading role in senior appointments at a
security centre in England where the firm's technology is
Aides to May declined to comment earlier this month on
whether similar arrangements could be used in the Hinkley deal.
Sources familiar with the Hinkley issue said it was up to
the government to come up with a 'Plan B'.
One option, to address the value-for-money concerns, would
be to make acceptance of the deal conditional on renegotiating
the price paid for Hinkley-generated electricity.
Under the proposals announced so far, the plant would be
contracted for 35 years to sell energy to the British public at
92.50 pounds ($121.95) per megawatt hour - more than twice
current baseload power prices.
Negotiating a lower price would ease criticism at home for
May, but would raise a fresh question mark over the future of
the plant. At least one EDF board member would reconsider their
vote to approve the project if the terms changed significantly,
($1 = 0.7585 pounds)
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Karolin Schaps;
editing by Andrew Roche)