Building a new power station at Moorside needs to happen quickly if nuclear is to maintain its contribution to the UK’s energy supply, a major industry conference has been told.

The chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), Dr Tim Stone, stressed the need to develop the site adjacent to Sellafield during his opening address to the two-day NNB2019 (Nuclear New Build) conference in London on Tuesday.

Dr Stone told delegates from around the world that the nuclear sector in the UK had reached a critical point.

“The UK’s current nuclear fleet is progressively retiring in the period to 2030, but which time only Sizewell B will be left generating,” he said.

“There is no question, this must be replaced – by nuclear.

“Both Wylfa Newydd and Moorside are excellent sites with huge local support, and so I am sure they will be developed at some point. But if nuclear is to maintain its low carbon and secure contribution to our energy supplies – which it absolutely must – this needs to happen quickly.”

Uncertainty continues to surround the future of the Moorside site, which is still designated for nuclear energy generation.

NuGen’s plans for a £15 billion power station at the site collapsed dramatically at the end of last year when its owner, Toshiba walked away from the project after failing to find an investor to take it on.

While business leaders, politicians, unions and academics have all called for support from the Government to find a new developer to fill the void, little progress has been made.

Meanwhile, plans for a £14bn power station at Wylfa Newydd, Anglesey, were put on hold by Hitachi after talks broke down between the company and the Japanese and UK governments over financial support for the project. 

Hitachi also suspended work on its plans to develop a second power station in Oldbury, Gloucestershire, delivering a hammer blow to the Government’s atomic energy ambitions.

Dr Stone – who took over as chairman of the NIA from former Barrow and Furness MP Lord John Hutton in December – admitted that the new build industry “has gone through some pretty difficult times”.

He praised progress on the Hinkley Point C development in Somerset, the first nuclear power station to be built in the UK in the last 20 years, but said more development was urgently needed if the Government-set target of cutting greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 is to be met.

On other technologies, he dismissed carbon capture and storage, saying “just because you can, does not mean you should”, and reiterated comments he made during an address to the Britain’s Energy Coast Cluster members meeting earlier this year, that it should not be a choice between nuclear and renewable energy.

“Despite impressive and welcome advances in renewable technologies, it is clear renewables cannot deliver the required energy security and decarbonisation objectives on their own,” he said.

“All the modelling is clear; given the scale of the UKs' energy requirements, and the pace needed to deal with climate change, if we are to remain an economically competitive nation for the sake of our children and grandchildren, a significant component of that energy – whether delivered through electricity or through hydrogen – will need to come from nuclear power.

“There is no choice.”

The two-day conference includes sessions on supply chains, the Nuclear Sector Deal, launched last year, and the financing new nuclear projects – an issue which may believe accelerated the demise of Moorside.

The Government’s preferred way of supporting the Cumbria project was through a Regulated Asset Base Model, which many believed scared off Korean utility Kepco and other potential investors in NuGen.

The NIA’s annual conference in December was told that adapting the RAB model – typically used in water and transport infrastructure developments – was still years from being completed.

At today’s event, a panel discussion focused on “new sustainable finance models for energy infrastructure”.

The conference attracted delegates from the United States, across Europe and also China, including representatives from China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN).

CGN has made no secret of its desire to build a fleet of power stations in the UK and is currently ramping up plans for Bradwell B to fill the void left by Moorside.

CGN was understood to have lost out to Kepco as preferred bidder for NuGen and in-Cumbria understands that negotiations took place with Toshiba, along with other potential investors, before it decided to pull the plug on the project.

Last year chief operating officer at CGN UK, Rob Davies, described Moorside as a “very smart site”, fuelling speculation that it may yet resurrect a development at the site. 

However, nationally concerns remain over Chinese involvement in the UK’s critical infrastructure.