Interview - NuGen to secure buyer for UK Moorside nuclear project by early next year

LONDON (Reuters) - Toshiba's 6502.T NuGen nuclear project in Britain expects to secure a new investor by early next year, assuring the project's future, NuGen's chief executive officer told Reuters in an interview.

FILE PHOTO - A company logo is seen outside the office of NuGen in Whitehaven, Britain February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble

NuGen, in Moorside, northwest England, is expected to provide around 7 percent of Britain’s electricity when built but was thrown into doubt after developer Toshiba’s nuclear arm Westinghouse went bankrupt this year.

Toshiba's NuGen joint venture partner Engie ENGIE.PA subsequently pulled out of the project, leaving the Japanese firm searching for new investors.

“There are multiple credible bidders and we expect to find a new buyer, and a clear way forward by early next year,” NuGen Chief Executive Tom Samson told Reuters in an interview.

South Korea's Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) 015760.KS and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) have both said they are interested in bidding for the project.

It was initially hoped electricity generation would begin by 2025 but Samson said a new delivery plan will be set up by the new owners.

“Clearly there will be a shift in the start date from 2025 to later in the 2020s, but the plant could still be up and running before 2030,” he said.

The timing will largely depend on which of the bidders is successful, as KEPCO and CGN are both likely to want to use their own nuclear reactor technology.

New reactor designs in Britain must go through a four-year, Generic Design Assessment (GDA) approval process with the country’s regulator.

KEPCO’s reactor design has yet to start the regulatory process, while CGN began the approval process earlier this year as the company also plans to build a new nuclear plant in Bradwell, Essex.

Toshiba’s Westinghouse was initially expected to provide the reactor technology, and this already has GDA approval.

“We are not ruling out any technology at this stage,” Samson said.

Britain needs to invest in new capacity to replace ageing coal and nuclear plants that are due to close in the 2020s, but large new plants have struggled to get off the ground due to high costs and weak electricity prices.

Samson said the company has called on the government for support for the project.

“We are exploring options for the government to participate in the project but it is just a dialogue at the moment and no policy decisions have been made,” he said.

To help spur investment Britain has a contracts for difference (CfD) scheme, providing a guaranteed minimum electricity price for some new projects.

Earlier this month a CfD auction for offshore wind projects cleared significantly lower than the contract awarded to investors in the long-delayed Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, the first to be built in Britain for more than 20 years.

“We are confident that, just as with offshore wind, with wider deployment the costs of nuclear will come down over time,” Samson said.

Reporting by Susanna Twidale, reporting by Louise Heavens