Theresa May 'ducking concerns' about future of Moorside nuclear power station
The Prime Minister has been accused of "ducking" concerns about the future of a planned multibillion-pound nuclear power station following huge losses reported by one of its backers.
NuGen, the company behind the Moorside scheme in Cumbria, has insisted that Toshiba remains committed to the project despite doubts after the Japanese giant revealed it was on track for losses of 390 billion yen (£2.7 billion) for the year to March.
Toshiba has a 60% stake in NuGen.
Theresa May was asked about the project during a visit to Copeland in Cumbria, ahead of next week's by-election in the constituency.
She said: "The consortium involved in Moorside has been absolutely clear. They have reconfirmed their commitment to Moorside.
"The Business Secretary Greg Clark has spoken to NuGen and Toshiba in the last few days and, in fact, over the last six months, he has made three visits to Japan, working with the government there and businesses there about their investment here in the UK.
"It is the Conservatives who are committed to the nuclear industry in the UK. We have agreed the first new nuclear build in a generation here in the United Kingdom.
"We recognise - and Trudy Harrison, our candidate here in Copeland, has made very clear to me - the importance of Moorside and the importance of the nuclear industry.
"Jeremy Corbyn was asked five times in one interview whether he would back Moorside and he would not back Moorside.
"It's the Conservatives who understand the importance of the nuclear industry. Trudy Harrison knows that, her husband works in the nuclear industry. She knows how important it is."
Justin Bowden, national officer of the GMB union, which represents nuclear workers, said: "Theresa May has ducked the central question, just when strong leadership was required.
"It is crucial for the future of Moorside, for the economy and jobs in Copeland and for the future security of Britain's electricity supply that there is a Government-backed Plan B.
"The Government just crossing its fingers and toes will not guarantee the lights stay on if there is a further wobble with Toshiba."
A hustings is being held in the constituency later which is expected to feature questions from nuclear workers and their families about the future of Moorside.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Business Secretary, said: "The Prime Minister today failed to assure that the UK is committed to the NuGen nuclear plant at Moorside in Cumbria.
"Taking an equity share as Labour has called for would ensure this vital power station built. Theresa May's lack of action compounds a failed and incoherent energy strategy, clumsily lurching from crisis to calamity.
"Labour supports new nuclear and the growth of renewable energy, but the Tories appear hell bent on preventing either, rushing us out of the Euratom nuclear partnership and slashing low carbon energy support.
"The Tories' failure is forcing up energy bills and threatening jobs."
Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, said: "The Prime Minister had every opportunity while visiting the Copeland constituency ahead of tonight's joint-union by-election hustings to reassure the workers and communities whose livelihoods depend on this industry and on the thousands of jobs Moorside will deliver.
"Instead she stayed silent, apparently oblivious to the agonising uncertainty being felt in the community by the doubt over Toshiba's continued commitment to the project.
"I call again on the Government to step in to secure jobs and skills at Moorside, and to ensure that the country's lights are kept on."
The Labour claims were dismissed as "desperate stuff" by John Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Carlisle.
"They're scaremongering about this project to try and win votes, when even NuGen have said that they remain committed to the project," he said.
Kate Blagojevic, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, said: "Theresa May has reiterated the Government's commitment to Moorside, but has not addressed the question of where the funding will come from.
"Toshiba is in financial meltdown, so it's a massive gamble to believe they will be able to contribute the billions it will cost to build the power station.
"The Government seems to be making sweeping commitments to the nuclear industry before doing the maths, and it just doesn't add up.
"Private investors are running away from Moorside because it cannot be built on time or on budget, so why is our Government so attached to new nuclear against all logic and reason?"