A top figure at China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) has described Moorside as “a very smart site”, fuelling speculation that the company could revive Cumbria’s hopes for a new nuclear power station.

Rob Davies, chief operating officer at CGN UK, revealed his admiration after being asked by in-Cumbria if the company was still interested in developing a power station in Cumbria, having missed out to Kepco as preferred bidder for original Moorside developer NuGen just over a year ago.

Revealing an ambition to build a fleet of power station in the UK, Mr Davies told the Nuclear Industry Association Nuclear 2018 conference held in London on Thursday, that CGN wanted to play a role in the country’s nuclear renaissance.

“Moorside is a very smart site, it is a nice site,” he said during a question and answer session.

“We are currently concentrating on Bradwell B and ramping that up. We want to build a fleet (of new nuclear power stations) in the UK.”

Mr Davies said it had been a coincidence that the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nuclear Energy’s visit to China had taken place at the same time Toshiba announced it would wind up NuGen after failing to secure a buyer for the developer. Cumbria MPs Trudy Harrison (Copeland) and Sue Hayman (Workington) were both on the visit and met with officials from Chinese state-owned CGN.

CGN was understood to have held discussions with Toshiba over a deal for NuGen, along with Korean state-owned utility and Canadian asset management company Brookfield – the new owners of Westinghouse, which had been poised to develop three reactors at the site before filing for bankruptcy protection in the United States before being sold off. However, Toshiba decided to pull the plug on NuGen after admitting it was “unable to anticipate” a sale.

Mr Davies had earlier told delegates that CGN UK would be bringing Bradwell B development in Essex forward to “fill the gap” left by the demise of NuGen and its plans to develop a £15 billion power station at the Moorside site, adjacent to Sellafield. The power station was set to provide around six per cent of the UK’s energy needs, as well as creating thousands of jobs during the construction and operation phases.

“We are confident we can close that gap by bringing Bradwell forward,” he said, raising some concerns from Cumbrian delegates that development at the Moorside site could be pushed back even further.

“Confidence comes from our experience. We are the world’s biggest new build developer.”

CGN is already heavily involved in the UK’s nuclear new build plans and says it has invested £2.4bn so far in the UK. Along with French state-owned EDF Energy it is progressing the under-construction Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset and is a partner, again with EDF Energy, in the Sizewell C power station plans in Somerset. It is understood to have held early discussions to buy a stake in the eight nuclear UK power stations operated by EDF Energy.

However, the Government has expressed concerns about China’s further involvement in critical infrastructure projects and any future overseas investment in such projects must pass a national security test.

Mr Davies said fears over security and that China wanted to “steal” British intellectual property were “nonsense” and called on the UK’s nuclear sector to help them tackle the damaging misconceptions.

“We are committed to the UK for the long-term,” he said.

“We understand we need to build trust and understanding because we are not well known. All we want regulatory approval for our HPR1000 reactor and then build them in the UK.

“If China is going to have a future as an investor un UK energy, we need to tackle this together, to get his trust and acceptability. We want to tackle it head-on.”

Outgoing chairman of the NIA Lord John Hutton described the wind up of NuGen as disappointing.

The Moorside site in Cumbria, remains a designated site for nuclear new build, and as we have seen in recent weeks, has huge local and national support,” said the former MP for Barrow and Furness.

“It can – and should be – part of the UK’s future energy strategy, and we in industry need to play our part in helping to bring forward alternative options for how that valuable site, in the heart of the centre of nuclear excellence, is integral to the future. I am sure – knowing this industry and Cumbria as I do – that there will be a powerful and determined effort in encouraging a positive future for the Moorside site.”

Lord Hutton, who has served as chairman since 2011, will be replaced by Dr Tim Stone.

The conference also heard from speakers focusing on decommissioning, export, investment, supply chains and diversity. A session on finance revealed that plans to adapt the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model to underpin new nuclear development was still years away from being completed.

The emergence of a RAB model as the Government’s preferred way of supporting Moorside, has been blamed for scaring off Kepco and other potential buyers of NuGen. However, the Government has stressed it cannot continue to invest billions of pounds of taxpayers money in new nuclear power stations, although discussion are on-going with Horizon Nuclear Power over a potential £5bn Government stake in the Wylfa Newydd power station on Anglesey, Wales.