NuGen’s updates on progress with its Moorside new-build project are an extremely rare commodity these days in the UK. The last update, made six months ago, reported CEO Tom Samson as saying that ‘a universe of options’ remained available to NuGen – even with the bankrupt Westinghouse and its AP1000 reactors apparently kicked into the long grass. This starry-eyed view of available options must, in reality, be limited to the current interest expressed in NuGen’s project by Chinese and South Korean investors, both of whom are likely to insist on the deployment of their own ‘in house’ reactors.
With little information on progress by the traditionally inscrutable Chinese Government and its state-backed China General Nuclear (CGN) seeing the light of day recently, South Korea has been busy number-crunching behind the scenes to work out how the $18Bn (around £14Bn at today’s exchange rate) might be raised to buy out Toshiba’s stake in the moribund West Cumbrian project.
A little reported article by Business Korea on 17th October states that a Nuclear Power Plant Export Strategy meeting in Seoul on 10th October had devised a plan to raise the $18Bn (around £14Bn at today’s exchange rate) required to take control of Moorside.
Under the plan – and through a ‘project financing structure’ overseen by the South Korean Government – $7Bn in primary financial arrangement would be provided by three export financial institutions – the Export-Import Bank of Korea, the Korea Development Bank and the Korea Trade Insurance Corporation. An additional $2.2Bn would come from KEPCO itself and a further $5.6Bn raised jointly from the UK Government (Infrastructure and Project Authority), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the US Export/Import Bank. The balance of $3.2Bn would be raised by ‘project operators’.
Though the extent of the UK Government’s individual contribution (via guarantees or other devious new-build financial instruments) is not disclosed, the Business Korea article also confirms that the UK government ‘has been asking KEPCO to take over equities from Toshiba’. Giving a boost to the prospect of UK involvement in the deal being cooked up in South Korea is the further claim made earlier by The Investor – a South Korean online business news service – that KEPCO has ‘received the green light to supply its own nuclear reactor technology to Moorside’. The Investor goes on to state that, at a September meeting in London, NuGen’s CEO Tom Samson had hinted that although the Chinese ‘Hualong’ HPR1000 reactor was already under scrutiny by UK Regulators (for CGN’s proposed Bradwell site in Essex), the 4-5 year approval process for KEPCO’s reactor could be reduced considering it is already being used in four countries.
That such reports and claims may currently be little more than wishful thinking is made clear by Business Korea who adds the caveat that South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy has yet to confirm a concrete financial support plan. Worried by the prospect of exposure to payment delays and regulatory changes during a long-term construction period requiring huge funds, any Ministry approval is wholly dependent on a final decision being taken by KEPCO itself to take over equities in NuGen.
Whether or not these plans are turned into reality, they provide at least some clue as to what is happening behind the scenes. This is more than can be said for NuGen for, despite CEO Tom Samson’s astrological ‘110% certainty’ (curiously upgraded later to 120%) that Moorside would go ahead, its last public pronouncement on 16th May 2017 advised that it had been forced to hit the pause button on the project because of investor uncertainty, and that a strategic review had been initiated on Moorside’s future. Since then, having virtually disappeared as an entity from the Cumbrian radar screen and consigned its local stakeholders and consultees to the darkest black hole, NuGen’s sole website contributions have been confined to the opening of a memorial beach garden north of Whitehaven and a cycle ride around Moorside by students from NuGen’s ‘Bright Sparks’ educational programme.