Financing for a planned power station facing the North Sea, estimated at 20 billion pounds (USD 28 billion) and necessary to ensure a steady stream of electricity for decades, is unexpectedly in doubt. Part of the problem is attracting investors to a project one-fifth owned by China.
Stanley Reed, writing in The New York Times said that Chinese President Xi Jinping's authoritarian ambitions and human rights record has chilled relations with Western nations, forcing a broad reconsideration of a range of economic dealings.
The 2015 nuclear agreement called for letting China be a majority owner of a proposed plant of its own design, at a site about 50 miles from London. Although that project is going through regulatory channels, it is expected to face strong opposition from lawmakers.
"We cannot allow the technological heart of our power system to be exposed to the risk of disruption by states that do not share our values," said Tom Tugendhat, a member of the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament.
China has ambitions to be a global supplier of nuclear power plants, but Britain is not the only country reconsidering an agreement, says Reed.
"Within Europe, there is an emerging pattern of nations rethinking nuclear collaboration with China," said Ted Jones, Senior Director at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group in Washington. He pointed to recent setbacks that China's nuclear plant business has suffered in Romania, the Czech Republic and elsewhere.
Evidence of the risks involved was buried in financial results published on Thursday by Electricite de France (EDF), a French utility company that owns and operates Britain's eight operating nuclear power stations.
The company is halfway through building Britain's first new station since the 1990s, at Hinkley Point in southwest England, a project one-third owned by China General Nuclear, China's state-owned nuclear company, reported The New York Times.
EDF, in its quarterly results, urged the British government to pass legislation soon enabling a new, less risky financial and regulatory arrangement before the company embarks on the North Sea project, near a fishing village called Sizewell.
The critical question, though, is whether the presence of China General Nuclear might give financial institutions pause, especially those from the United States, said Reed.
In 2019, the company was placed on a US government blacklist -- which restricts American companies from doing business with it -- for engaging in efforts to acquire advanced American nuclear technology for military purposes.
Moreover, Britain too joined the United States in banning the Chinese telecom supplier Huawei from high-speed wireless networks on security grounds.
Ultimately, the government will decide the fate of Britain's nuclear program; one option said to be on the table is the British government's buying China's stake in the Sizewell project, reported The New York Times.
China's global nuclear ambitions are on the line in Britain. Its plans for a nuclear plant outside London, at Bradwell-on-Sea, are going through Britain's approval process, a critical step that Beijing hoped would be a springboard to its acceptance in other international markets.
But the British government has soured on Beijing because of a host of concerns, including the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, a former British colony, and the harsh treatment of Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang region.
Industry sources say it is now difficult to conceive of the government's approving a Chinese-designed and majority-owned plant not far from London, as envisioned for the project in Bradwell, said Reed.