Chinese Hinkley backer accused of spying in the US

The Chinese backer of Hinkley Point C has been accused of espionage in the US.

China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) is charged with illegally obtaining US nuclear technology in a conspiracy lasting from 1997 until April this year.  

Szuhsiung Ho, a senior advisor to CGN, and the company he owns, Energy Technology International, are both facing the same charge. Ho, who uses the first name Allen, is also accused of acting as a foreign agent and will appear before a court in Tennessee on Wednesday.

“Allen Ho, at the direction of a Chinese state-owned nuclear power company allegedly approached and enlisted US based nuclear experts to provide integral assistance in developing and producing special nuclear material in China,” said assistant attorney general for national security John Carlin when the charges were announced in April. “Ho did so without registering with the Department of Justice as an agent of a foreign nation or authorization from the Department of Energy.”

The defendants are alleged to have sought out technical assistance regarding small-modular reactors, fuel assemblies and reactor-related computer codes. CGN and Ho are accused of organising payments for US-based experts in exchange for their services.

The Department of Justice said Ho allegedly told potential recruits that “China has the budget to spend” and needed assistance to independently design and manufacture its own nuclear instrumentation system. In correspondences with experts he made clear he was acting on behalf of CGN and that he was to do so “surreptitiously”.

“The arrest and indictment in this case send an important message to the US nuclear community that foreign entities want the information you possess,” said executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch Michael Steinbach. “The federal government has regulations in place to oversee civil nuclear cooperation, and if those authorities are circumvented, this can result in significant damage to our national security.  The US will use all of its law enforcement tools to stop those who try to steal US nuclear technology and expertise.”

CGN took on a 33.5 per cent stake in Hinkley Point C in October last year. Towards the end of the July EDF gave the go-ahead to the new nuclear plant in Somerset. Within hours the government announced its final decision would be postponed until the autumn so it could undertake a review of the project. There was speculation that the final decision was delayed because new prime minister Theresa May was concerned that Chinese investment in British infrastructure could threaten the UK’s security.

May had a “general prejudice” against Chinese investment whilst she was home secretary under David Cameron, former business secretary Vince Cable told the Times shortly afterwards. Earlier this week the Chinese ambassador to the UK warned that the wider relationship between the UK and China could be put at risk if the government pulls out of the project