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UK nuclear energy: Why does Moorside matter?

  • 10 months ago (2018-10-09)
  • Junior Isles
Nuclear 446
Craig Hatch

By Craig Hatch, Managing Director, Surveying & Asset Management, WYG

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Three hundred of the best and brightest in the UK’s nuclear industry gathered at this year’s Cumbria Nuclear Conference (CNC), to discuss the importance of collaboration, not just in Cumbria, but across the industry. The Moorside project’s significant impact on Cumbria was a hot topic amidst several industry-affecting discussions from notable speakers, including Minister for Energy and Industry MP Richard Harrington, and Carlisle MP John Stevenson. The obvious elephant in the room was the fact the project has stalled and a difficult road lies ahead. But with the majority of attendees supporting the project, why exactly is the path forward so difficult?

The reason dates back to NuGeneration’s (NuGen) formation in 2009 and its plans to construct the Moorside power station providing up to 3.6 GW capacity on land next to Sellafield. With a history of nuclear management and abundance of local nuclear professionals with transferable skills, the project’s success seemed a no-brainer given the nation’s energy needs and the proximity to the existing nuclear site. However, the following sequence of events led to the current lack of certainty for the project:

  • 2009 – There was a choice of where the technology would come from, either three 1,100 MWe Westinghouse AP1000 reactors or two 1,650 MWe Areva EPR reactors. Ownership at that time sat with GDF Suez (now Engie), Iberdrola, and Scottish & Southern Electricity (SSE).
  • 2011 - SSE sold their 25 percent share to other partners, making them 50/50 shareholders.
  • 2013 - Westinghouse, owned by Toshiba, acquired the Iberdrola shares, subsequently acquiring 10 percent of the Engie share to become the majority shareholder. Therefore, technology chosen was the Westinghouse AP1000’s.
  • 2017 - Financial problems at Toshiba and Westinghouse operations in America led to two things: Toshiba announced intent to sell its share in NuGen, and Westinghouse was placed under Chapter 11 bankruptcy notice. Engie opted to sell its 40 percent share of NuGen to Toshiba, making Toshiba 100 percent owners of a project that didn’t fit with their long-term ambitions, although they continued to support it financially. KEPCo became preferred bidder to acquire NuGen. The technology would now include APR-1400 reactors, requiring a Generic Design Assessment (GDA) to be approved by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), causing a significant delay.
  • 2018 - KEPCo lost preferred bidder status as negotiations between the parties and HMG faltered. Brookfield Business Partners LP later expressed interest (who acquired Westinghouse following the Chapter 11 notice). This could mean reversion back to AP1000 technology, avoiding delays in achieving GDA. A Regulated Asset Based (RAB) model was considered, using comparisons to UK Government’s London’s sewage project. Secretary of State for BEIS Strategy, MP Greg Clark, announced this would reduce the cost of nuclear power by requiring the state to share some construction risks.

The scale of investment needed to construct a nuclear power station and the complexity of funding means that investment from organisations, even large-scale organisations, requires significant appraisal and constant re-evaluation. Lack of clear governmental strategy and support compounds this issue. It will be something of a coup if the much-admired tenacity of NuGen CEO Tom Sampson convinces Government that Moorside should lead the queue for this financing model.

The Nuclear Sector Deal stated it “will be considering direct investment in the Wylfa project and will review the viability of a regulated asset base model for future projects” (as opposed to the Contracts for Difference route taken by Hinkley). The net result is a potential two-year delay whilst they review, creating commercial uncertainty for KEPCo at a time when Toshiba ran out of money to keep NuGen afloat. For a project delivering a national need with such widespread support, the path has been long and arduous, and still remains unclear.

Vocal cross-party support from the likes of MP Trudy Harrison, MP Sue Hayman, and MP John Stevenson, along with significant nuclear partners, is helping to present a single Cumbrian voice, exemplified by Centre of Nuclear Excellence (CoNE). However, the Government’s mind is focused on Brexit right now.

The UK still lacks a credible energy policy, leaving it to market development and conflicting planning regulation, as seen through promotion of fracking and stifling of the cheapest source of (albeit intermittent) generation with onshore wind. The Government must do everything needed to underpin effective and fair commercial returns for investment to be made in a new nuclear fleet. But from listening to the Rt Hon Richard Harrington speak at the CNC, he did not seem to have a real vision for getting Treasury to move.

Logic from all directions dictates why the project matters to Cumbria and the UK as a whole. Cross-party support throughout Cumbria is rare for those living and working in the region, but a single-voice collaboration in the county is most welcome in supporting the compelling case for Moorside.

Wider public interest exists too, as large infrastructure construction projects have greatly benefitted communities and people’s daily lives. This project will create opportunities for significant associated developments, like the North West Coast Connections (NWCC) project connecting the national grid to the new power station, as well as affordable housing, transport improvements (road, rail, sea), and health and educational facilities.

Over the next few months, the region needs to harness the general support for the project witnessed at the CNC to accelerate and re-ignite a project bringing these benefits essential for future prosperity in west Cumbria.