Nothing paints a better picture of the hesitant commitment to build new reactors at Moorside than the half-hearted resolve of some of NuGen’s consortium partners since their 2009 purchase of an option to develop the 199 hectare site adjacent to Sellafield.
For even before the dust has settled on the corporate comings and goings through NuGen’s revolving doors – the departure of Scottish & Southern Electricity (SSE) in 2011 to focus its resources on renewables and carbon capture, Iberdrola’s wholescale abandonment of the project in June this year by selling its 50% share to Toshiba/Westinghouse, and GDF Suez similarly selling 10% of its share to the Japanese conglomerate – it now appears that Toshiba/Westinghouse is itself is less than fully committed to the project in the long-term.
For just last month, as majority shareholder in NuGen’s plans to build three new reactors (Westinghouse AP1000) on the greenfield site ‘just across the road’ from Sellafield, Toshiba/Westinghouse is reported (Nuclear Engineering International 16th September 2014) as already planning to sell some of its stake in the venture ‘within the first year of plant operations’. The Westinghouse president Danny Roderick is quoted as saying that whilst GDF Suez will take back some of the stake from Toshiba ‘there will be other investors that come in over time’.
Such wishful thinking on new investors for a project that is already struggling three years behind schedule – and with little more to show after a five-year presence on the development site other than one Portakbin, one security guard with clipboard and high-viz jacket, a plastic leaflet dispenser nailed to a fence post and a sparsely worded company sign stuck in a farm-track hedge – is as about as fanciful as Toshiba’s claim that all three reactors will be up and running by 2026.
Whilst GDF Suez may restore part of its previous shareholding in NuGen at some point in the future, the same cannot be said of its previous partner Iberdrola who had repeatedly and vehemently sworn its undying allegiance to NuGen. For in the latest twist to the musical chairs saga, the Spanish company has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GE Hitachi (Iberdrola Press Release, 21st July 2014) to cooperate in developing the PRISM reactor proposal that is currently being assessed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
The PRISM proposal, which boasts of getting rid of the UK’s 110+ tonnes of plutonium in just five years, is described in the NDA’s latest assessment as being a credible option – ‘but this assessment could change as additional evidence is gathered’ (NDA Position Paper, January 2014). Whether or not the sodium-cooled fast breeder PRISM reactor, described by a nuclear engineer from the Union of Concerned Scientists as looking good on paper – ‘so good in fact that we should leave it on paper, for it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard’, ever gets off the drawing board remains to be seen, as does Iberdrola’s future presence in the venture given its recent inclination to jump ship when things go wrong.