This week, Xi Jinping made his first visit to the United Kingdom as the president of the People’s Republic of China. Both governments hope that the visit will inaugurate a “golden era” of trade relations. President Xi’s visit highlights the budding cooperation between the two countries in the area of civilian nuclear energy. Among the roughly £30 billion in deals inked between the two countries was a Chinese commitment to partially fund the first nuclear plant to be built in the United Kingdom since 1995 and the first new nuclear plant in the European Union since the 2011 Fukushima accident.
The announcement during Xi’s visit of an agreement to allow substantial Chinese participation in the UK civil nuclear program signifies a new era for China’s nuclear export program and perhaps for the global nuclear industry. It also provides fodder for ongoing debates about the costs and benefits of using nuclear power to address climate change and the national security implications of allowing foreign investment in critical infrastructure. We outline the scope of nuclear cooperation, explain the key factors driving the deal, and discuss the potential implications for the global nuclear industry.