Cumbrian nuclear plant set to be delayed

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4 October 2017 6:52PM

Cumbria's £10bn nuclear new build will not be delivered on schedule, according to the man in charge of the company behind it.

Tom Samson, the chief executive of NuGen, which has plans for a power plant in Moorside, near Sellafield, has said it will not be up and running by the 2025 target.

He has also said he expects a new investor in the project in the early part of 2018 and confirmed the company has been speaking to the Government about possible support.

Mr Samson made these comments in an interview with in-cumbria, where he also said he was "115 per cent" confident the scheme would go ahead.

Doubts have surrounded the Moorside project – designed to supply up to seven per cent of the UK's electricity and create up to 10,000 jobs – all year because of issues affecting NuGen's owner, Toshiba.

The Japanese giant made a loss of 965.7bn yen (£6.8bn) in the 2016 financial year.

Toshiba's woes stem from part of its nuclear operations.

In January the company announced its then US subsidiary, Westinghouse Electric, which was originally part of BNFL, may have overpaid – by several billion dollars – for another nuclear construction and services business.

This contributed to losses in its nuclear business which profits elsewhere did not mitigate.

Earlier this year Westinghouse – due to supply three AP1000 reactors to Moorside – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the USA. This led French firm ENGIE, which formerly held a minority stake in NuGen, to trigger shareholder agreements which forced Toshiba to take full control.

Toshiba has always insisted that it remains committed to the Cumbrian project though it has long term plans to sell its stake.

Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) have both expressed an interest in buying into NuGen. Both Kepco and CGN have their own reactor designs, which would need regulatory approval if they were to be used by NuGen.

Mr Samson said: "When we are in a partnership with different technologies and shareholders it is inevitable that that would change schedules. We will have a new plan which we will need to create with any new owner and that will take us beyond 2025.

"It is very difficult to pin down a date but I would expect it will be operational within the 2020s."

He added that there were several "credible buyers" but did not discuss which companies these were but did say: "There is a high likelihood that there will be a new reactor technology."

Mr Samson also said his firm had been in discussions with the Government about how it might get involved in this project.

"There is a need for the Government to consider how it supports nuclear new build," he said, adding that the firm was in "a dialogue of options".

He added that infrastructure development was something which was needed in Cumbria and that he had been in discussions with the LEP and rail authorities about this.

Mr Samson said: "We have been consistent as a new build developer in west Cumbria in articulating that infrastructure investment is needed for two reasons.

"Firstly access to investment in west Cumbria so they are accessible to all of Cumbria and the north of England. Secondly, as we saw during the winter of 2015, there is a dependency of road and rail access to ensure that our assets and investments are properly protected."

"We are very concerned that the Government recognises the under-investment in Cumbria over the last 30 years," he added.

Mr Samson also said that he found Cumbrians remained supportive of the project.

Stewart Young, the leader of Cumbria County Council, pointed out other delays in the project had been announced in the past.

He said: "The more delays there are, the more concerned we get."

Mr Young added: "If the Government wants this to happen, they are going to have to get involved in some way. It could be a direct shareholding or some other way of writing down the risk."

He was also concerned that if the development does not go ahead, abandoned plans for a nuclear repository in Cumbria might be revisited by the Government.

Trudy Harrison, the MP for Copeland, added that Moorside was not the only development which would help the area in the future and emphasised that it could also develop around the nuclear decommissioning industry and the future West Cumbria Mining project in Whitehaven.

She echoed Mr Samson's call for infrastructure investment: "It is important that the Government recognises that real investment is needed in our infrastructure. That will enable us to diversify and will support growth in all sectors, especially tourism, which is actually bigger than nuclear in Cumbria."

Both Mrs Harrison and Mr Young said they were not surprised at news of a delay in the project.

In a separate development, Toshiba has announced it will buy out a minority stake in Westinghouse and take full ownership of the company.

It will take on a 10 per cent stake from current owner Kazatoprom, a company based in Kazakhstan, in a deal worth 59bn yen (almost £394m). This is expected to be completed by January 1.

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