The man at the helm of the Centre of Nuclear Excellence initiative says he is convinced a new nuclear development will take place at Cumbria’s Moorside site.
Paul Howarth, chair of the Centre of Nuclear Excellence (CoNE) – which promotes Cumbria’s nuclear expertise to Government bodies and industry across the UK and overseas – said a development on the land next to Sellafield was a “no-brainer” given the UK’s demand for low carbon energy.
Speaking on the subject for the first time since the demise of NuGen – which had been set to develop a £15 billion power station at Moorside – Mr Howarth also stressed that nuclear should remain a key part of Cumbria’s economic future.
“I think anybody in nuclear will look at the site and go ‘yeah it’s a good site’,” he told in-Cumbria.
“There’s a lot of infrastructure there already: the location is right, you have a strong skills base; supply chain companies and there’s a willing community. It’s got all the right ingredients.
“Utilising the Moorside site is absolutely the right thing to do. You just have to look at the requirements for low carbon electricity that’s needed in the UK. It is a no-brainer, it will happen.”
Mr Howarth, also chief executive at the National Nuclear Laboratory, said the demise of NuGen was, in the short-term, disappointing. 
NuGen had been set to develop Moorside, which would have generated around six per cent of the UK’s energy needs, as well as creating thousands of jobs during the construction and operation phases.
However, its Japanese owners Toshiba decided to wind up the company after failing to secure a buyer to take NuGen on, as part of a wider strategy to divest from global nuclear activity. The Government has been heavily criticised for failing to step in to keep the project alive, with business leaders blaming its late introduction of a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model as its preferred way of supporting the project – rather than investing directly in it.
“A lot of great work has been put in by NuGen,” he said.
“I think it is almost a victim of circumstance. The Government is doing the right thing by looking at the RAB model and Toshiba has had its own issues. It is unfortunate timing but as far as the longer-term prospects are concerned, I’m still very optimistic and there’s absolutely positive future for Cumbria.”
Mr Howarth added that a strategic approach to securing a new developer for the site was needed, with Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership ideally placed to lead. Cumbria, he said, needed to ensure it did not miss the boat due to the shifting nature of the industry, nationally and internationally.
“There’s an awful lot to do as far as the UK’s nuclear programmes are concerned,” he said.
“Cumbria has substantial nuclear expertise, but it does need to adapt to a changing climate in the industry. It is still a very positive agenda for nuclear in the UK and also overseas. Cumbria has got to make sure it can adapt and respond to that.”
Industry leaders have said that Cumbria is at a crossroads with reprocessing at Sellafield coming to an end and the uncertain future for nuclear new-build.
Sellafield Ltd says it is eager to work with its supply chain to ensure to ensure it does not shrink along with the amount of work at the site.
Meanwhile, calls continue to grow for the Government to help secure a developer and for the site to be used for Small Modular Reactors, which are smaller, easier to construction and cheaper than conventional power stations.
Hopes of a large-scale development were fuelled last week, when China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) described Moorside as a “smart” site, when asked by in-Cumbria if they were still interested in developing in Cumbria.
However, CGN said its current focus was on bringing forward the Bradwell B power station plans in Essex, to fill the gap left by NuGen’s demise. The Chinese state-owned company is already working with EDF Energy on the under-construction Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset and plans for the Sizewell C power station in Suffolk.