The former chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has accused the Government of being short-sighted for not investing in NuGen’s Moorside nuclear power station plans.

John Clarke, in an interview with our sister business website in-Cumbria - the first since leaving the NDA - described current government policy of expecting private sector companies to take on billions of pounds-worth of risk to pursue nuclear new-build projects as “barking”.

Describing NuGen’s demise as a body blow, Mr Clarke said the Government needed to rethink its obsession with letting the market decide and take more control of the country’s energy infrastructure.

“I just don’t see why Government wouldn’t invest and take a stake; my personal view is that’s quite that’s quite short-sighted from their perspective,” said Mr Clarke, who spent nine years at the NDA, the last five as chief executive, before standing down around two years ago.

“The Government wants low carbon and secure energy, but doesn’t seem prepared to take a stake, and that’s disappointing.

“My long-held view, occasionally expressed it at NDA, is that Government’s policy is neither fish nor fowl.

“It wants the free market to do it all, yet it wants to set parameters around which the free market will do it.

“The market will decide in a way that works for shareholders. It’s an incompatibility.

“If you want low-carbon energy, supply chain spend, and so on, then you have to get involved and take a stake.

“You then have a legitimate right to make these demands as a shareholder, and as a shareholder you get a benefit down the line when it starts generating power, and that can be used to fund something else.”

NuGen’s plans for a £15 billion power station on the Moorside site, next to Sellafield, were left in tatters in November when Japanese owners Toshiba decided to pull the plug on the developer after a fruitless search to find a buyer.

That was a move that dealt a hammerblow to the prospect of thousands of jobs in Cumbria.

Business leaders, industry chiefs, politicians and academics all made strong calls for the Government to invest in NuGen as teetered on the brink, in a last gasp bid to keep the Moorside project alive – a project that would have generated six per cent of the UK’s energy needs and created thousands of jobs.

And anger grew in Cumbria as it emerged the Government was in negotiations with Horizon Nuclear Power, led by Japanese company Hitachi, over taking a £5bn stake in its plans for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey.

Mr Clarke said he believed the Government’s inaction was a conscious decision rather than, as many suspected, being distracted by Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May and government spokespeople, meanwhile, constantly dismissed the NuGen saga as a “commercial matter”.

“I understand Mrs May’s magic money tree and the difficult decisions on funding, health, education and infrastructure, but I think a key part of the Government’s obligations is to make sure we’ve got power,” he said.

But what next if Cumbria’s nuclear power ambitions are to be achieved?

Mr Clarke is sure of at least one thing.

“Expecting private sector companies to take capital projects of £20bn to £30bn on their balance sheet is barking,” he explained.

“Let the private sector do the development, let them bring their funding, but they do need some degree of underwriting by means of investment.

“Wylfa and Moorside are different to Hinkley Point C, which is effectively the French and Chinese state delivering the project through EDF Energy and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN).

“We’ve privatised our electricity generation to a foreign state – I find that a bit odd.”

The Government has, instead, identified a Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model as a way of supporting any development at Moorside.

That model that has been used for the £4.2bn Thames Tideway Tunnel development in London.

The emergence of the model deep in to negotiations between Toshiba and Korean-utility Kepco has been blamed by some business leaders for scaring off the potential buyer.

The wider nuclear industry has, however, widely welcomed it as a possible long-term solution.

But delegates at the recent Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference in London heard its adaption to support nuclear new build projects remains years away.

Mr Clarke, though, said he remained positive that a development will take place at the Moorside site, as many industry commentators have predicted will happen.

“I’d like to think at some point that would come back,” he added.

“I don’t think we should assume there will never be a full-scale development at Moorside, but clearly it’s not going to happen quickly.

“I also think there are other opportunities. It would be an ideal location for Small Modular Reactors as demonstrators.”

Speaking about the key component in the area’s favour for atomic new-build, he said: “The biggest thing is you need is a community that wants you there – that’s what we have here.

“You have a community that is largely comfortable with having significant nuclear facilities in its locale, but not in a blasé way, it is a very educated and well-informed community.

“I think that is gold dust.”