New approach for nuclear?

BUSINESS VIEW: A question mark hangs over plans for a £10bn nuclear power station at Moorside in Cumbria. Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, looks at the issues surrounding the troubled project.
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MOORSIDE nuclear power station was supposed to be a game changer for Cumbria, and for UK plc.

Three nuclear reactors on land next to Sellafield were going to generate more than 7% of the UK’s electricity by the mid 2020s.

NuGen, the consortium behind the scheme, was 60% owned by Toshiba of Japan and 40% by ENGIE of France.

Things began to unravel at the end of last year when Toshiba revealed it was in financial turmoil caused by huge losses at its US subsidiary, Westinghouse, which was to have supplied the AP1000 reactor design for Moorside.

Toshiba admitted it was no longer in a position to deliver Moorside, prompting ENGIE to trigger an exit clause forcing Toshiba to buy its stake in NuGen.

NuGen has now “paused” Moorside although there have been talks with potential Korean and Chinese investors to replace Toshiba and ENGIE.

Our view at Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is that the Government should invest directly in Moorside, sharing the risks and potential rewards with the private sector. This should ultimately bring a dividend for the public finances.

By de-risking the project, government involvement would also mean a lower strike price for the electricity generated – a criticism of the Hinkley Point nuclear project in Somerset is that its electricity is too expensive.

We don’t expect anything to happen quickly at Moorside, given the turmoil caused by the recent General Election.

But looking long term, the project – which would create peak on-site employment for 6,000 people during construction – is crucial to the UK’s energy security. Its 3.8GW capacity is going to be vital as polluting coal and older nuclear power stations are phased out.

The UK is the world’s fifth biggest economy. If other countries’ governments are prepared to invest directly in nuclear energy, why shouldn’t we?

Image: NuGen

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