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Toshiba uncertainty agonising for Moorside nuclear power station

The proposed new development at Moorside (Photo: NuGen)
The proposed new development at Moorside (Photo: NuGen)

[T]oshiba has delayed publishing its latest set of results where it was widely expected to announce a $6bn (£4.8bn) write-down at its US nuclear business and pull the plug on new nuclear projects, raising concerns about the future of the huge Moorside scheme near Sellafield in Cumbria.

The Japanese technology giant has submitted an application for the approval of the deadline for submission of its 178th third-quarter securities report. The report was due to be published this morning but it is now seeking to delay this deadline to 14 March 2017.

A recent report in The Wall Street Journal claimed that Toshiba was set to halt its nuclear construction ambitions after huge losses at its Westinghouse unit in the US. This is understood to include the proposed nuclear new-build at Moorside, which it was hoped could supply up to 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs.

In response, the UK’s biggest union Unite has called for the government `to get a grip’ on the funding of major infrastructure projects, following today’s (Tuesday 14 February) announcement that Toshiba is to wait yet another month before confirming its intentions towards the Moorside nuclear power station in Cumbria.

Unite national officer for energy Kevin Coyne said: “Toshiba’s announcement today that there will be yet another month’s delay on providing clarity over its future involvement in the Moorside project piles further agony upon this Cumbrian community.

“But it also reinforces what Unite has been saying for some time which is that the government must get a grip of the funding of these projects. It is the duty of the government, not the private sector, to ensure that UK energy is safe secure and that means it must act to bring our new power stations on stream.

“As the further uncertainty caused by today’s delay by Toshiba all too clearly illustrates, this reliance on private sector companies to supply the financing for the UK’s energy future is simply not secure. That’s why it is the job of governments to come up with a coherent financial architecture to ensure that such large developments proceed smoothly. Keeping our lights on cannot be left to the whimsy of market forces.

“If this government is at all serious about delivering its industrial strategy, then it will not tread water following today’s development. It is not just the security of our energy supply that is up in the air now. In a community that could sorely do with the investment, thousands of highly-skilled and well-paid jobs are linked with Moorside going ahead successfully – they cannot be jeopardised.”

Toshiba has a 60 per cent stake to provide the reactors for the Moorside project owned by the NuGen consortium. NuGen, a UK nuclear company, is a joint venture between Toshiba and French company ENGIE. The Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric Company would have supplied the three reactors. ENGIE is earmarked to operate the site.

Unite reiterated that there is not a clear, suitable alternative to the design for the AP1000 nuclear reactors at Moorside, near Sellafield, proposed by Toshiba as their version differs from the generator made by the South Koreans, who the government may approach to replace the Toshiba investment.

Kevin Coyne added: “A change of design in the reactor could take five years to implement, which is troubling, as it is means more delays that the UK energy sector can ill-afford.

“The government has to get a grip of its policy as it has an overriding duty to keep the lights on for the consumer and industry in the decades to come.”

Commenting on this morning’s news, Len McCluskey, who is standing to be re-elected general secretary of Unite, Britain and Ireland’s biggest union, said: “This delay will be agonising for the community and I urge the government to provide solid assurances that the project will not be allowed to fail.

“Moorside is the West Cumbria region’s largest ever private investment, and this continued uncertainty is evidence of another wheel falling off the government’s industrial strategy and underscores why energy should not be a low priority in the Brexit negotiations.

“For the people of Copeland this is about jobs. Their livelihoods cannot depend on the whim of the private-sector and the government must step up to secure jobs and skills at Moorside.”

Gillian Troughton, Labour’s candidate for the forthcoming Copeland by-election, said: “It is unfair for this Tory Government to sit on their hands waiting for Toshiba to make their decision. Our community needs certainty.

“Moorside needs to go ahead and the Government must step up and provide assurance that it will.

“If Toshiba pulls out of Moorside, the Government must intervene immediately. Anything less than a public stake and financial stability for this project would be another Tory let-down for our community. It’s the Government’s duty to protect these jobs and secure this investment.

“The Labour Party backs new nuclear and would underwrite investment in Moorside – for jobs, skills, infrastructure, expansion of renewables, and to meet our climate change targets.

“I will continue to stand fully behind our nuclear industry, no ifs, not buts.”

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