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Unclear nuclear: What's going to happen to Moorside?

Craig Hatch

Despite Toshiba’s recent decision to wind up its NuGeneration plans, there is still a need and appetite for Moorside to happen.

Toshiba had good reasons for not continuing with nuclear power, given the widely reported pressures from the Westinghouse acquisition and subsequent sale to Brookfield. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that Moorside is still a no-brainer.

Expected to provide 7 per cent of the UK’s energy requirements, Moorside was let down by a lack of government incentives and a insufficient cohesion within Cumbrian local government.

Central government has received most of the criticism from Toshiba’s failure to find a buyer. Insufficient government support has also reportedly discouraged Kepco, which had been announced as the preferred bidder only for the deal to collapse in August. This was a lost opportunity and the government needs to do better at courting friendly investors if we hope to keep plans for Moorside alive.

Nuclear heartland

Moorside has a strong business case: it would provide economic stimulus to the surrounding area and would be welcomed by nearby communities. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to resolve a number of socio-economic issues, particularly related to areas of deprivation in west Cumbria left isolated by inadequate transport infrastructure.

Added to this is its location in the heartland of nuclear skills capability. New builds require additional skills, but the level of nuclear intelligence present in Cumbria already provides a depth of transferable skills not found anywhere else in the world.

The area is home to the Centre of Nuclear Excellence (CoNE), Low Level Waste Repository (LLWR), the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), while BAE is building nuclear submarines down the road in Barrow. This hive of nuclear activity makes a compelling business case for a country with significant infrastructure skills shortages.

“The status quo needs to change, but it may not happen quickly enough to keep Moorside in the pipeline”

Currently, Brexit is naturally commanding all the government’s attention. While professing general support for nuclear new build, energy minister Richard Harrington revealed at the Cumbria Nuclear Conference that there was no cohesive plan for Moorside within the current UK energy policy. The status quo needs to change, but it may not happen quickly enough to keep Moorside in the pipeline.

Local failings

Cumbria itself must also shoulder its share of responsibility. The lack of cohesion within Cumbrian local government and the historic ineffectiveness of the local enterprise partnership are widely known. The two-tier authority system empowers too many factions within the county. This makes it difficult for central government to engage, leading each authority to continue with its own narrow view and motivation to resolve micro rather than macro issues.

Now more than ever, we need one cohesive voice that includes the major nuclear organisations, MPs, a united business community supported by the Chamber of Commerce and CBI, and – crucially – a single local government voice with an effective LEP.

If Toshiba’s withdrawal is to be turned into something positive, a great start would be recognising the need for this unified approach in Cumbria.

We must show investors and central government why Moorside is the right site for a nuclear power station, and learn from recent mistakes to ensure a positive future outcome.

Craig Hatch is managing director, surveying and asset management, WYG

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