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What is the Moorside nuclear power station? The story of Cumbria’s £15bn plant

The Moorside nuclear power station could provide 7% of the UK's electricity but after Toshiba pulled out the project, its future is uncertain

For much of the past decade, the west coast of Cumbria has been preparing itself for the arrival of the NuGen facility - but what is the Moorside nuclear power station plan?

Slated to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity as coal power is phased out, the nuclear development firm’s £15bn project at Moorside has struggled to get the official go-ahead with owner Toshiba pulling out earlier this month due to financial difficulties.

It has led to calls for government intervention to keep the project alive, securing both jobs for the region and future energy supply for Britain.

The reasons behind the breakdown remain unclear, but the consequences mean the UK will be indefinitely without the NuGen nuclear plant, which would have provided power to about six million homes by 2025.

Here we take a look at the background to the Moorside plant, why its progress has stalled and what it would look like were it to go ahead in future.

 

 

What is the Moorside nuclear power station? A retrospective look

The rights to a 190-hectare (470-acre) plot north of the Sellafield nuclear plant, in Cumbria, were acquired in October 2009 for £70m by three energy companies.

The consortium of Iberdrola, GdF-Suez and Scottish & Southern later became NuGeneration (NuGen) in November 2010.

While the project was mooted as the largest ever private sector investment for the county in North West England, bringing new jobs, it has been opposed by green activists including Radiation Free Lakeland.

The proposed plant was named Moorside in December 2011 and Toshiba then took ownership of Iberdrola’s stake in 2013, before NuGen officially bought the plot for an undisclosed sum in 2015.

One of Toshiba’s subsidiaries, American manufacturing company Westinghouse, went bankrupt in 2017, prompting French backer Engie to pull out.

What is the Moorside nuclear power station?
(Credit: NuGen)

This left the Japanese company as the sole owner of NuGen, which is headquartered in Manchester.

 

What is the Moorside nuclear power station? The design

Plans for NuGen’s Moorside plant originally included three AP1000 reactors - a type of pressurised water reactor (PWR) - combining for an output of 3.4 gigawatts (GW).

The AP1000s use fewer valves and pumps than previous PWRs, which means they can go for up to 72 hours without the need for cooling by relying primarily on natural processes such as downhill-flowing water and heat rising.

They are deemed to be more powerful, efficient and safer than other reactors.

Since December 2017, however, Toshiba expressed intentions to use AP1400 reactors instead.

Designed by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), there is currently just one active AP1400 in South Korea’s Shin Kori plant.

The switch to the more advanced reactor type would delay the completion of the NuGen project until the late 2020s or early 2030s - but this depends on a deal even going through in the first place.

 

What is the Moorside nuclear power station? The problems

Concerns have now focused on whether the plant will ever be built after issues with the private sector backing.

After Toshiba announced its intention to sell its stake due to its financial problems, Kepco was the preferred bidder.

It looked set to assume control of the project to see it through to fruition, with a placeholder completion date of 2025.

But the companies failed to agree a deal and Toshiba instead embarked on a staff cull earlier this month, cutting 60 people from its 40-strong team as unions warned it was on the brink of collapse.

NuGen said in a statement: “NuGen staff were informed that owing to the protracted period of time it has taken to secure a way forward for the Moorside Project, there would be a phased reduction in the headcount within the NuGen organisation.”

GMB called for government intervention, saying the existing Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) would need to be scrapped, replaced and renamed as a new agency to make sure the proposed Cumbria power station and thousands of connected jobs are secured.

 

What is the Moorside nuclear power station? CEO has no “firm plans” but aims to fight

On 21 September, NuGen announced that it has no “firm plans” to work out an alternative development strategy for its plant after Toshiba officially exited the project.

what is the moorside nuclear power plant
NuGen CEO Tom Samson (Credit: NuGen)

At the Cumbria Nuclear Conference in Carlisle, NuGen CEO Tom Samson said he believes the Moorside project could be saved if the government intervened. 

But he added the consortium would not abandon the plant and would fight to save it.

“My commitment to Cumbria is that I will fight tooth and nail to find a solution, and indeed a sustainable solution, we can depend upon with real determination to avoid a wind up of NuGen,” he said.

“The deal with Kepco may still come to fruition, but we cannot just wait for them to make a decision.

“It is essential that this project goes ahead and we therefore have to consider alternative ways forward.”