In an upbeat news release the UK’s Dept of Energy and Climate Change has announced the signing by the UK and Chinese governments of a civil nuclear agreement that it believes could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to British companies over several years. A separate landmark agreement also confirms that Chinese companies could own and operate a Chinese designed nuclear power station, provided they meet the stringent requirements of the UK’s independent regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation. Investing in nuclear will ‘diversify the energy mixes of both countries while playing a role in tackling climate change’ says the DECC statement.

For the first time, the UK and Chinese governments have agreed what the DECC describes as a ‘ground-breaking joint statement on climate change’.  This is part of more broadly based attempts to reduce emissions and enhance energy security, central to which will be achieving a global, legally binding, and ambitious climate change agreement in Paris in 2015. Both governments ‘recognise the threat of dangerous climate change’, and are ‘committed to work towards the global agreement’. Strong and growing co-operation between China and the UK extends to low carbon policies, new energy technologies, and the means of financing the two countries’ low carbon transitions. The UK and China have launched a joint £20 million research programme on Low Carbon Innovation, including research on offshore renewables, low-carbon manufacturing processes and technologies, and low-carbon cities.
Energy and Climate Change secretary Ed Davey said: "China and the UK stand united in our plans for more collaborative working that will help to achieve long lasting energy security in our own countries. Both governments recognise that tackling climate change is fundamental to our future and have committed to reduce emissions while enhancing energy security by investing in nuclear power. The joint statement with China reflects our shared intent to re-double efforts for an ambitious global agreement and domestic solutions to climate change."

The nuclear agreement paves the way for Chinese companies to invest in Hinkley Point C, the first nuclear reactor plant to be built in the UK for a generation. The governments also agreed to better co-operation on the wider nuclear fuel supply chain cycle by working together to develop and export innovative solutions in areas such as waste treatment and decommissioning which could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to British companies over several years.

Regarding climate change issues a major new programme of collaboration has also been announced between the Met Office Hadley Centre, a leading UK climate change research centre, the Climate Change Centre of the Chinese Meteorological Administration and the Chinese Institute of Atmospheric Physics, focused on the climate science needed to support the development of climate services in the region.  
Separate multibillion pound agreements have been signed by Shell and BP with the China National Oil Corporation, with a strong focus on supplying the liqueified natural gas China will need for its shift to cleaner energy sources. In a separate arrangement Rolls Royce has signed an MOU with SNPTC to co-operate in civil nuclear markets in the UK and overseas.

Some questions of nuclear safety and political security are still open. The Times  reported in October  that China General Nuclear Power Group was prepared to co-finance the Hinkley C plant with EDF so long as it was able to build some of its own reactor designs at other UK sites. This was a reference to the AP1000 third-generation nuclear reactor, the first of which was being built in Sanmen, Zhejiang province. The same month, the South China Morning Post reported that the project had fallen behind schedule, and questions were being raised over its safety standards. The reactor, whose expansion from 600 to 1000 MW or more has not yet been commercially proven, is based on the Westinghouse AP600 and AP1000 technology once owned by the UK government through its ownership of Westinghouse, which was sold to Toshiba in 2006. The Office for Nuclear Regulation granted interim approvals to the AP1000 design in late 2011, but much work on safety aspects remains to be done to meet UK licensing requirements.