Furness MP John Woodcock has joined calls for the government to take a stake in the Moorside nuclear development, as speculation over a buyer for the project intensifies.
Mr Woodcock has urged Whitehall to step in and help make the project more attractive for potential buyers.
His call comes as state-run Korea Electric Power Corporation has revealed it is in “working-level” talks to buy a stake in NuGen. China General Nuclear Power Corporation has also expressed an interest in the project, which is set to bring thousands of jobs to Cumbria.
NuGen and its shareholder Toshiba have been exploring a range of options to fund the project. These include Toshiba selling some or all its shares after then-subsidiary Westinghouse Electric – due to supply three AP1000 reactors to Moorside – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US having overpaid by several billion dollars for another nuclear construction and services business.
Describing the Moorside project as “beleaguered”, Mr Woodcock raised the issue in the House of Commons with concerns about the UK’s potential withdrawal from Euratom, Europe’s agency that oversees nuclear safety and standards.
The response from the energy minister Richard Harrington that the situation at Moorside is “a matter for Toshiba” and that withdrawal from Euratom was not the issue, did not go down well with Mr Woodcock.
He said: “It is disappointing and frustrating that the government’s public statements on Moorside continue to be so starkly at odds with the reality.
“The government is, rightly, not treating Moorside as purely a matter for the private sector and if they were as unconcerned as they pretend then it would amount to selling 20,000 high-skilled jobs down the river.
"My understanding is that the government would significantly improve the chances of a positive outcome for Cumbria were they to signal preparedness to take a public stake.”
Calls for the government to buy a stake in NuGen have already been made by the GMB union but any intervention would require a significant change in government policy.
In a recent interview, KEPCO chief executive Cho Hwan-eik said that discussions were under way to buy a stake in Moorside as part of its global expansion plans. He added that the state-owned company was cautiously reviewing risks.
Meanwhile, the Business Korea website has claimed that the Korean government is already working on a project financing structure to raise £14bn including contributions from Korean, US and Japanese institutions, with the UK government’s Infrastructure and Project Authority.
It claims KEPCO would provide $2.2bn of the $5.4bn that would be raised by the project operators, while plans had been discussed that a joint Korean public-private bidder and the UK government would take equity stakes.
The Business Korea website article goes on to quote the Korean government’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy that there were no concrete financial support plans in place and that there was caution over risks relating to a long-term project involving massive sums of money.
NuGen would not comment specifically on the speculation, or calls for the UK government to take a stake.
But a spokesman said: “NuGen is extremely encouraged by the volume of interest globally in its ambitions at Moorside. Toshiba has been engaged with multiple credible and capable parties who have expressed an interest in acquiring NuGen, further testimony of the attractiveness of the nuclear industry in the UK and an indication of the degree of foreign investment that is ready and willing to enter this market.
“NuGen and its shareholder Toshiba are exploring a range of options for funding the Moorside Project, which includes Toshiba selling some or all its shareholding in NuGen. These are commercial discussions and questions should be directed to Toshiba.”