The UK has given the go-ahead for the first new nuclear power station for a generation. After an abrupt halt to review Hinkley Point C in July, the government is now ready to push ahead with Europe’s largest energy project, based on a new legal framework on future foreign investment in the plant.

The £18bn plant will be constructed by France’s EDF Energy and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN). There are also plans for the two companies to build two other power plants in the country, Sizewell C and Bradwell B.

Plans for Hinkley C were put on hold in July after the new UK prime minister, Theresa May, said she needed time to assess concerns over its high cost, unproven technology and the role of foreign investors.

“Ministers will impose a new legal framework for future foreign investment in Britain’s critical infrastructure, which will include nuclear energy and apply after Hinkley,” says the government in a statement.

The new setup will mean the UK government is able to prevent the sale of EDF’s controlling stake before the completion of construction, and it will also mean that the government is able to intervene in the sale of EDF’s stake once Hinkley is operational. After Hinkley, the government will take a “special share” in all future nuclear newbuild projects to ensure that significant shares cannot be sold without its knowledge or consent.

“The new legal framework for critical infrastructure will provide a sound basis for the projects at Hinkley Point C, Sizewell C and Bradwell B, as set out in the strategic investment agreement signed by EDF and CGN,” says EDF in a statement, adding that, in line with its earlier statements and government requirements, it intends to retain a controlling stake in the construction of Hinkley Point C.

The new regulations to nuclear plants will form part of overall reforms to the government’s approach to ownership and control of critical infrastructure. Full implications of foreign ownership will be scrutinised for the purposes of national security to bring the UK’s policy framework on par with other major economies.

Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, says: “Britain needs to upgrade its supplies of energy, and we have always been clear that nuclear is an important part of ensuring our future low-carbon energy security.”

The UK has eight nuclear power plants which generate around 20% of domestic power needs. Almost all of these are due to close by 2030. Hinkley Point C is to provide 7% of the nation’s electricity needs for 60 years.

EDF and CGN are to receive a fixed price of electricity of £92.50 per megawatt hour, rising with inflation, for 35 years. Critics have argued that the guaranteed price is too expensive when wholesale electricity prices are currently less than half that amount.

David Elmes, head of the Global Energy Research Network at Warwick Business School says the deal “locks UK bill payers into an expensive source of energy for decades to come”.

“This deal was started a decade ago. The choices the UK has for the supply and use of energy have changed considerably since this it was first conceived. We need a serious discussion of cost effective opportunities, so we’re not boxed in to such a decision again,” he says