Heavyweights in the nuclear industry have demanded a major programme of new power stations if the ambition to cut all CO2 emissions by 2050 is to be realised.

Speaking at the Nuclear Industry Association’s (NIA) annual conference in London on Thursday, figures from the industry body along with developers stressed the importance of nuclear’s role, alongside renewable energies, in meeting the Net Zero target.

Without new nuclear power stations, they argued, the UK risks embedding a major reliance on carbon-emitting gas fired power stations for generations to come.

The calls comes as the country’s nuclear new build programme remains in a state of limbo.

Plans for a £15 billion power station at the Moorside site in West Cumbria collapsed in November last year after Japanese giant Toshiba pulled the plug on developer NuGen after failing to find a buyer to take on the project – which would have created thousands of jobs and generated around seven per cent of the UK’s energy needs.

Just a few months later Horizon Nuclear shelved plans for power stations at Wylfa Newydd, Anglesey, and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, due to wrangles between its developer – Hitachi – and the UK government on financial support for the two projects.

It leaves just Hinkley Point C in Somerset as the only one of several proposed stations to reach the construction stage, although its developer, EDF Energy, has warned the development could cost £2.9bn more than expected and be delayed by up to 15 months due to “challenging ground conditions”.

The project has also been criticised for the high strike price consumers will pay for the energy it produces once operational, which, at £92.50 per megawatt hour, is more than double the price for wind power.

The NIA also stressed that there is “no time to be lost” on clarifying new financing rules for new nuclear power. The Government recently concluded a consultation on adapting the Regulated Asset Base Model (RAB) – already used in the UK to finance electricity, gas, telecoms and transport infrastructure projects – to bring down costs and encourage investment from developers currently wary of the eye-watering up front costs of building new power stations.

The NIA’s chief executive, Tom Greatrex, said “We have to grow the industry’s contribution to a low carbon economy. The independent Committee on Climate Change said earlier this year that we need a variety of technologies including nuclear power to reach the UK’s Net Zero emissions target by 2050”.

“This is a proven, dependable, technology with lower lifecycle CO2 emissions than solar power and the same as offshore wind.

“It is also an important economic engine for the UK, creating high quality direct and indirect employment for around 155,000 people.”

“The countries and regions which have most successfully decarbonised, like Sweden, France and Ontario in Canada have done so by relying on nuclear. You are not serious about tackling climate change if you are not serious about nuclear.”

The NIA has also said that public opinion has showed “continued and consistent” support for an energy mix that includes nuclear, with 72 per cent of respondents to a YouGov in October agreeing it was needed to ensure a reliable supply of electricity.

Nuclear power current provides 20 per cent of the UK’s electricity, although the existing fleet of power stations is set to close over the next decade.

And recent figures have highlighted Cumbria’s major role in the UK’s civil nuclear industry. It supports 14,213 jobs in the county, mainly based at the Sellafield site, which equates to around a third of the nation’s workforce.

Other speakers at the event – which was attended by more than 200 delegates – included NIA chairman, Dr Tim Stone; Stuart Crooks, managing director of Hinkley Point C; Duncan Hawthorne, chief executive of Horizon Nuclear Power and Zheng Dongshan, chief executive of CGN UK.

At last year’s conference, CGN UK’s chief operating officer, Rob Davies, described Moorside as a “smart site” when asked if the Chinese state-owned company would be interested in developing a large-scale nuclear power station there.

CGN UK is understood to have been in the running to take on NuGen after Toshiba signalled its intention to divest from nuclear. But it lost the race to become preferred bidder to Korean utility Kepco, who were later stripped of the status for taking too long to trash out a deal amid uncertainty over financial support from the Government.

CGN is already involved in the Hinkley Point C development and has said it will look to bring forward the Bradwell B development in Essex forward to fill the gap left by the demise of NuGen.