Government “dithering” harming chances of investment, nuclear experts say

Nuclear industry leaders have slammed the government following the decision by engineering giant Toshiba to pull out of a £15bn project to develop a new nuclear power station in Cumbria.

In what has been labelled as a “crushing blow” to hopes of a revival of the UK nuclear energy industry, the Japanese firm has failed to find a buyer for the NuGeneration consortium behind the planned Moorside plant in West Cumbria with the plant expected to have delivered 7% of the UK’s electricity needs from 2025.

The announcement last week came after 18 months of negotiations with prospective buyers. Korea Electric Power Corporation had been earmarked as the preferred bidder to takeover but no deal has reached.  The firm say it will start the wind-up process in January.

Craig Hatch, managing director, Surveying & Asset Management at WYG, has over 35 years' experience working in the public and private sectors and on complex nuclear and renewable energy projects.

He believes a lack of clear governmental action could have prevented the pull-out from occurring and the Cumbrian region will now be massively impacted.

“The almost inevitable news that Toshiba are winding up NuGeneration is tremendously disappointing for Cumbria and for UK energy policy.  The potential loss is more than just the development itself, but of the associated regeneration of a region containing areas of deprivation, which would have had a significant impact locally.  

“Local support from MP’s has not manifested itself into a clear form of government action that could have prevented this from occurring.  The knowledge, drive and determination of the NuGen team will now be lost so that when hopefully the project is resurrected in some form, a lot of re-work will be required."

Toshiba say the Moorside site in Cumbria is now in the hands of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority as the owner of the grounds, and as it remains a site a site designated by for nuclear new-build, it is up to the government to “determine its future”.

The scheme had been projected to create between 14,000-21,000 jobs over the lifetime of the project – including peak on-site employment of more than 6,500.

Tim Yeo, chair of the New Nuclear Watch Institute, said it was “hardly surprising that Toshiba has finally lost patience and pulled the plug” and blamed the Treasury’s stance on financial models creating confusion for foreign investors.

"This is a huge disappointment and a crushing blow to hopes of a revival of the UK nuclear energy industry,” Yeo said. “Although the Government has been in talks with Kepco over the NuGen project for more than a year it has still not decided what financial package will be offered to enable construction of new nuclear reactors to take place at Moorside.

“In the past the British nuclear industry has suffered the consequences of a tendency to choose first of a kind (FOAK) technologies. Now it is suffering the consequences of the Treasury's tendency to choose FOAK financial models. Not surprisingly foreign investors are now getting confused. This dithering is also jeopardising the chance to secure Korean investment into Britain just when it is most needed and deals a blow to job prospects in the north west."

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