The future of the Moorside nuclear reactor has been thrown into fresh uncertainty today after Engie announced it intends to withdraw from NuGen, the joint venture behind the project.
France's Engie said NuGen faces "significant challenges", leading it to exercise its right to sell its 40 per cent stake to Toshiba following the bankruptcy filing made by the Japanese conglomerate's Westinghouse unit.
Toshiba will purchase the shareholding for approximately 15.3bn yen (£111m) to own 100 per cent of the project, and now it said it is looking to find investors for or sell NuGen.
"Nothing has been officially determined as to NuGen; we will explore all alternatives, including sales of the shares, while carefully monitoring the situation, in consultation with other stakeholders including the British government," said a Toshiba spokesperson.
The Korean state-backed utility Kepco is tipped to buy the project, which will build three reactors on the coast of Cumbria. UK buisness secretary Greg Clark is currently visiting Seoul to meet senior South Korean government officials and discuss potential investment, including on nuclear projects.
However, the question remains of whether the British government would be willing to contribute towards the estimated £10bn to £15bn needed to build the plant or provide credit guarantees.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) said:
The UK government is committed to new nuclear as an important part of our energy mix, having commissioned the first new nuclear power plant in a generation at Hinkley Point C.
The NuGen consortium has always planned to bring in other partners to deliver the project and we engage regularly with a range of developers and investors.
In a statement, NuGen said it is "fully focused" on concluding the shareholder transfer to allow the Moorside project to move forward.
"NuGen has been working tirelessly to bring in additional investment to support the Moorside project as it works towards helping to deliver a low-carbon future for the UK," it added.
NuGen, which expects electricity generation to start in 2025, is a vital part of the UK's plans for a new generation of reactors to maintain energy security.
Cyrus Larijani, nuclear sector strategy lead at the National Physical Laboratory, said it is not a question of if all of Britain's planned reactors will be built but when.
"We need [nuclear reactors], how else are we going to plug the energy gap in such a short space of time?"
However, he added Britain's nuclear industry needs to establish a new domestic supply chain and introduce standardised inspection protocols and plant infrastructure design.