Toshiba has announced it is pulling out of the construction of a nuclear power station in Cumbria, putting the overall future of any project going ahead at the site in doubt.
The Moorside plant was projected to create up to 21,000 jobs over its lifetime, and produce nearly 7 per cent of the country’s future electricity requirements.
However, due to a lack of support the Japanese firm said it would wind up its UK nuclear arm completely, taking a 15bn Japanese yen (£100.5m) hit after closing its NuGeneration subsidiary.
In a statement the company said it was taking the “economically rational decision” after failing to find a potential buyer during an 18-month negotiation period.
The decision puts a massive dent in the UK’s nuclear ambitions, but has been welcomed by green energy experts as an opportunity to move towards “cheaper and easier-to-build renewables”.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “The end of the Moorside plan represents a failure of the government’s nuclear gamble.
“Their flawed approach to making our economy low carbon has dashed the hopes of prospective workers and businesses in Cumbria that should have been centred around renewable technologies.”
The Moorside site in Cumbria remains a site designated by the government for a new nuclear plant, and it now falls to them and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to determine its future.
Workers’ unions have attacked the government for not intervening to ensure the plant’s construction went ahead.
They said the region was home to a wealth of nuclear experience, and thousands of jobs would be on the line in North West England if the Moorside project was not secured.
Justin Bowden, national officer of the GMB union, said a new nuclear power station in west Cumbria “remains vital for the UK’s future energy security and requires urgent action”.
“Government has ultimate responsibility for ensuring a secure and stable supply of energy throughout the UK. The truth is that ministers have dithered and delayed for far too long. We now need urgent action.”
Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary of Prospect union, called the decision “devastating”.
“Government has ultimate responsibility for ensuring a secure and stable supply of energy throughout the UK,” she said.
“The truth is that ministers have dithered and delayed for far too long. We now need urgent action.
“Our analysis shows that if the Government were to take a 50 per cent stake then there would be a net benefit to the public purse, so there really is no excuse not to.”
Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said Labour supports Moorside as they see nuclear as a key part of the UK’s energy mix, but said the government should have stepped in to support it.
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said Toshiba’s withdrawal was “entirely a commercial decision”.
“Nuclear has an important role to play as part of the UK’s diverse energy mix as we transition to a low-carbon economy, but in each case projects must provide value for money for consumers and taxpayers,” they said.
“This government remains committed to new nuclear through the Industrial Strategy Nuclear Sector Deal as well as consenting the first new nuclear power station in a generation at Hinkley Point C.”
Critics of nuclear power said the government should see the new circumstances as an opportunity to move away from nuclear to cheaper technologies such as wind and solar power.
“Shifting away from expensive, complicated technology towards cheaper and easier-to-build renewables gives the UK the opportunity to build an electricity system that will keep bills for homes and businesses down for years to come,” said Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
“Cancelling Moorside does leave a gap in the UK’s decarbonisation plans, but one that is more likely to be filled with the technologies of the future rather than the past.”