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£10bn UK nuclear plant – on the size of 170 football pitches – in crisis as French pull the plug mid-build

The future of Britain’s biggest nuclear plant was in crisis last night after French backers walked out on the £10 billion project.

The Moorside power station in Cumbria was set to deliver 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity from around 2025. It was being built by NuGen – a tie-up between Japan’s Toshiba and the French firm Engie.

But the plant – on a site the size of 170 football pitches near Sellafield – has been thrown into turmoil by a crisis at Toshiba, which is billions of pounds in debt and wants to stop building nuclear plants abroad.

Left in the lurch: Undated handout artist’s impression issued by NuGeneration Limited of how the Moorside nuclear plant in Cumbria may look

Last week, its US arm Westinghouse, which is producing reactors for Moorside, went bankrupt.

Yesterday, Engie decided this put its partner in breach of their deal, and pulled the plug on its involvement. It sold its 40 per cent stake back to Toshiba for £111 million.

Toshiba is now thought to be looking for a new buyer, but the chaos throws into doubt the Government’s nuclear power strategy, which involves substantial investment from overseas backers.

Chris Jukes, of the GMB union, said he was ‘hugely concerned’, adding: ‘We need urgent clarity from the Government, clarity from NuGen and some firm announcements about the plant’s future.

‘In post-Brexit Britain we have the perfect opportunity to provide our own energy supply.

‘But we have one French company exiting the project and one in the Far East having financial problems. It makes you wonder if this project is going to go ahead. It has to. There’s too much at stake.’

The plant will have three reactors and produce 3.8 gigawatts of power, enough to supply six million homes for 60 years. It is expected to provide a £2.8 billion boost to the local economy, and bring 15,000 jobs. Toshiba had already admitted the supply of reactors for the plant was uncertain after its US nuclear division filed for bankruptcy.

It was looking for investors to put cash into the project so it could offload its 60 per cent stake. But now it is lumbered with the lot.

Britain needs to invest in new infrastructure to replace ageing coal and nuclear plants. But it has struggled to get large projects built due to the high costs involved.

Delays to Moorside would deal a severe blow to Government plans to cut carbon emissions.

More than two thirds of the country’s power capacity is due to be decommissioned by 2030.

Engie said NuGen’s ‘significant challenges’ had forced it to exercise its rights in transferring its 40 per cent shares to Toshiba.

This relates to an agreement between the two firms that allowed it to sell all its NuGen shares to Toshiba in the event of a default – triggered by the Westinghouse bankruptcy.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: ‘The NuGen consortium has always planned to bring in other partners to deliver the project.’

NuGen said it had ‘been working tirelessly to bring in additional investment’.