Moorside nuclear power plan all at sea as storm clouds gather

Like most new nuclear stories, this one involves a creek and no paddle

Background: The NuGen Moorside story is the classic fairy tale (not the Disney version) full of darkness and multiple fatalities. Once upon a time, three new Toshiba Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors were planned for Moorside, a site adjacent to the notorious Sellafield reprocessing center on the Cumbria, UK coast. A UK subsidiary, NuGen, was created in November 2010, which originally included Iberdrola, GdF-Suez (later renamed Engie) and Scottish & Southern, all now departed. Toshiba took over Iberdrola’s stake in  2013 and, once other partners had fled, became the sole owner. Then, in March 2017, Westinghouse went bankrupt. By December 2017, South Korea’s KEPCO was the new bidder, hoping to replace the AP1000s with their own, unapproved, APR-1400 reactor design. That relationship is now also in jeopardy.

By Martin Forwood

With Toshiba having stripped South Korea’s KEPCO of its ‘preferred-bidder’ status to take over the Moorside new-build project, NuGen’s intrepid Search for Hopeful Investor Team –- shoulders hunched and heads down –- are back once again on lookout duty scanning the seas for any sign of a new investor heading for West Cumbrian shores.

Already discouraged by previous tideline sightings of the washed-up remains of Moorside’s erstwhile investment partners Southern & Scottish Energy (SSE), Spain’s Iberdrola and France’s Engie (formerly GDF Suez), all of whom deserted the Moorside ship to pursue greener pastures, dejected team members had been pinning their hopes on South Korea sailing to the rescue –- a rescue that now appears to have been holed beneath the waterline by Toshiba’s latest announcement. Toshiba reportedly told Kepco on July 25 that it would look to other bidders and study “alternative options,” given the long delay that has failed to see a deal signed between the two companies.


It was only just a year ago, with KEPCO then installed as preferred bidder, that NuGen’s CEO Tom Samson was telling ITV Border News and anyone else who’d listen that he was “110 per cent” certain that Moorside would go ahead. Today, as prospects for the development slip closer to oblivion, he must be regretting his bluster as he discovers that his own job and those of other employees who survived previous restructurings of NuGen are ‘on the line’. According to The Guardian, most of the project’s 100 UK staff have already been laid off.

NuGen copy

Taken at Moorside in August 2017, this scene would seem to symbolize the fate of NuGen’s nuclear misadventure in Cumbria.

Few will have much sympathy for their collective plight. For the writing on the wall for Moorside was evident from day one when the original NuGen consortium bought 190 hectares of green field adjacent to Sellafield from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) for £70M in 2009 –- despite the land being known to be less than optimum for new-build because of its geology, poor local infrastructure and its remoteness from where its electricity was needed. 

It was similarly clear that NuGen’s subsequently projected construction and operation timetable for Moorside –- building and bringing into operation three Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in just six years –- was laughably out of kilter with reality.

Once leading the race to get the first new UK reactors up and running, Moorside now languishes way down the list of potential new-build developments in the UK. Time to recall the lookouts and pull the plug on what many investors will now see as ‘soiled goods’ with acute funding problems and a project that can never compete in terms of cost or environmental benefit with the flourishing renewables sector.

Martin Forwood is co-director of Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE).

Headline photo by Martyn Fletcher: Storm clouds over Maryport, Cumbria, UK (17/1/18) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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