A government minister has given his personal backing to the building of a new nuclear power station in West Cumbria.

Energy secretary Greg Clark said today that he will be "personally vigorous" in ensuring that the multi-billion-pound Moorside project goes ahead, adding that it is of "huge importance to the country".

Mr Clark, on a campaign visit to west Cumbria, was speaking amid speculation that the three-reactor plant planned for land next to Sellafield is in some doubt after Japanese giant Toshiba – which owns a 60 per cent share in the NuGen consortium – suggested that it could walk away from nuclear projects.

He said: "I know there are discussions ongoing within Toshiba, but Toshiba are only part of the consortium. The commitment of the consortium itself seems to be strong.

"And the commitment from the government is strong; it's absolutely clear that we are committed to new nuclear.

"I have visited Japan three times in the six months I have been in this role, and the fact that the government is prepared to make these connections and have the direct conversations is indicative of that."

Mr Clark was joined by Trudy Harrison, the Conservatives' Parliamentary candidate for Copeland, for the visit to nuclear engineering specialists Ansaldo NES, based at Beckermet and in the Sellafield supply chain.

"It's been a fascinating visit to see the fantastic work that goes on here," he said.

"We have published our industrial strategy, which shows that we intend to build on our strengths in nuclear and decommissioning, and extend these strengths into the supply chain.

"We must create more opportunities for firms like this to service the nuclear industry.

"Additionally, we plan to work closely with the nuclear industry to make sure the skills are being provided; hence our announcement of the new National College for Nuclear [to be built at Lillyhall], and our big investment in science, research and development."

Mr Clark and Mrs Harrison were given a tour of the site by Howard Dixon, the divisional managing director of Ansaldo NES, who detailed a recent decommissioning project it completed for Sellafield.

Mrs Harrison said: "I started my career at Sellafield, so it's great to be back on the shop floor. It's been a pleasure to invite Greg to West Cumbria to showcase the great work people are doing here, and to demonstrate that procurement from local companies is happening successfully.

"It's also to highlight the needs of this area; that we need to be marketed so talented workers can be recruited to come and work here, and that infrastructure needs to be improved so we can sustain and strengthen the economy."

Also standing in the February 23 by-election to replace Labour's Jamie Reed are Gillian Troughton (Labour), Fiona Mills (Ukip), Rebecca Hanson (Liberal Democrats), Jack Lenox (Greens), Michael Guest and Roy Ivinson (both independent).