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LONDON (Reuters) - The British government has asked nuclear regulators to start the process for approving a Chinese-designed reactor for a proposed plant in Britain, expected to be one of the first new plants in decades.
General Nuclear Services (GNS), an industrial partnership between French utility EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation(CGN), hopes to use the design at a new nuclear station planned to be built in Bradwell, Essex.
CGN intends to make a number of investments in Britain's nuclear power sector, most notably the new Hinkley Point C project in southwest England which was approved by the government last September.
"I have today asked the UK’s independent nuclear regulators, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and the Environment Agency, to begin a Generic Design Assessment of the UK HPR1000 reactor," Jesse Norman, junior minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said in a statement.
A generic design assessment (GDA) is the formal process for approving a new nuclear reactor and typically takes around four years.
The Bradwell project is in an early pre-planning stage which will involve years of investigative works and public consultations before proposals can be produced for a planning application, EDF said in a statement.
"There are a number of different consents and permissions to be achieved before a nuclear power station can be constructed. As well as successful completion of the GDA process, other requirements include development consent, site licensing and environmental permits," EDF added.
Britain gave the go-ahead in September to the $24 billion Hinkley Point C nuclear project in southwest England. This is being is built by EDF and is backed by $8 billion of cash from CGN.
The decision to go ahead with Hinkley went some way to address concerns that Prime Minister Theresa May, a former interior minister, was less receptive to foreign investment than her predecessor David Cameron, particularly from China which has plans to invest billions in British infrastructure.
The government said it would take a "special share" in future nuclear projects to ensure that significant stakes could not be sold without its consent.
"The robust independence of the UK’s regulators is seen across the world as a key strength for nuclear in Britain...CGN and EDF will bring to this enterprise their joint experience in China, Britain and France over many years," said Zhu Minhong, General Manager of CGN UK.
Britain needs to fill an electricity supply gap next decade as many of its ageing nuclear plants are due to close by 2030 and its inefficient coal plants are forced to close by 2025.
(This story has been refiled to fix spelling of prime minister's first name)
Reporting by Nina Chestney and Susanna Twidale; editing by Jason Neely and Alexandra Hudson