The former chief executive of NuGen has launched a new venture to develop mini nuclear power stations in the UK – including Cumbria.

Tom Samson has launched Guardian Power with a focus on delivering Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and Advanced Modular Reactors (AMR) – a far cry from the huge £15 billion power station he had hoped to develop at the Moorside site in West Cumbria.

And, in an interview with our sister business magazine, in-Cumbria, Mr Samson also revealed his hope to finally deliver nuclear new build in the county to make up for the disappointment of failing to do so while at the helm of NuGen.

Guardian Power aims to link companies that develop SMR and AMR technologies with the investors needed to deliver them on the ground.

SMRs and AMRs are smaller than their equivalents in large-scale nuclear power stations, can be constructed off site before installation, and are cheaper to manufacture.

Its launch comes at a time when appetite for these mini nuclear power stations continues to grow following the demise of NuGen and the mothballing of similar-sized plants in Anglesey and Gloucestershire due to uncertainty around financing.

Mr Samson said: “There’s lots of technology around, but the technology players want to develop and sell technology, they’re not looking to be developers, owners and operators of energy facilities – that’s where Guardian Power fills that gap.

“Guardian Power is technology agnostic. It is an independent UK development company focused on getting the best deals for the consumers, picking the right technologies, working on the right sites and driving forward projects that can then deliver the clean energy the country needs.

“We’re not going to get anywhere close to the Net Zero target of 2050 unless we have got significant levels of nuclear within our energy mix.

“The benefit of SMRs and AMRs are that, by virtue of being smaller, they are easier to finance. We’re talking about the £2bn to £4bn range as opposed to the £20bn range of large-scale developments.

“That makes it more digestible and attractive to a wider range of potential investors, such as oil and gas companies and large industrials who have shied away in the past because of the costs involved with large power stations. The cost of SMRs and AMRs is small enough to sit on some of these company’s balance sheets.

“And because they are new technologies that haven’t been established yet, there is great potential to manufacture them in the UK, which is a big win for realising the UK’s industrial potential.”

It is a win that Cumbrian businesses are already positioning themselves for.

A Rolls-Royce-led consortium is currently designing a first-of-a-kind SMR and has said it is actively targeting Cumbria as a location for them.

Several Cumbrian businesses showcased their capabilities to deliver the power stations to Rolls-Royce chiefs during a visit to the county last summer.

Workington-based TSP Engineering is currently designing its own AMR, with the aim of developing them in Cumbria and further afield, creating around 1,000 jobs in the process.

Existing nuclear licensed sites such as Sellafield and Heysham, along with decommissioned coal sites, have been touted as ideal locations for SMRs and AMRs. Moorside has also been mooted, but Mr Samson believes it remains ripe for large scale development just as long as the Government provides investors with some confidence.

Japanese giant Toshiba pulled the plug on NuGen in November 2018 after failing to find a buyer. Korean utility Kepco had been in pole position to take it on but refused to sign on the dotted line as the Government dallied on what, if any financial support, it would give.

The Regulated Asset Base Model, currently under consultation, appears to be the Government’s and the nuclear industry’s preferred way of providing that with the consumer shouldering the upfront costs at the promise of cheaper energy further down the line.

Its emergence came too late to save NuGen, but Mr Samson has hopes of a positive return to the county.

“The biggest regret I took away from my experience at NuGen is that we couldn’t fulfil on the promise to West Cumbria to deliver economic benefit,” he said.

“That hit me hardest because Cumbria is special to me. Delivering a project of that scale and value is what drove me.

“So, I’m hoping in that Guardian Power’s new business there will be a place for Cumbria to benefit from us if we’re successful as well.”