Forgemasters cut puts brakes on UK’s nuclear ambition

When The Engineer spoke to Sheffield Forgemasters ahead of last month’s election, its CFO Neil Maskrey professed confidence that the – now cancelled –  £80M loan was election-proof. ‘Our firm belief is that our funding is earmarked, ring-fenced and will weather an election…’ he said.

It’s easy to see why Maskrey assumed that no government would turn its back on such a gold-plated investment opportunity.

The loan – along with private funding – would have enabled the Sheffield firm to install a 15,000 tonne forging press: an enormous piece of equipment capable of building almost all of the components for not just the UK’s but the rest of the world’s next generation of nuclear reactors.  The installation of the press would, in one move, have propelled the UK to the summit of the global nuclear supply chain.  

‘Our firm belief is that our funding is earmarked, ring-fenced and will weather an election…’

Neil Maskrey, Sheffield Forgemasters

With the firm’s chief executive  Graham Honeyman, yesterday vowing to focus on “other elements of the company’s development” the forging press plans are now stalled. Although given the compelling commercial case behind the facility it’s reasonable to speculate that private backers will step in to  pick up the shortfall.

While it’s certainly disappointing to see the coalition turn its back on a project that promised so much for UK industry, it’s too early to accuse the government of reneging on its promise to place engineering at the heart of a rebalanced economy. Indeed, yesterdays bitter pill was sweetened with relief for other sectors of the UK’s technology economy. The £12 million International Space Innovation Centre in Harwell will still get the go-ahead and just over  £30 million funding for the vital work being carried out at the Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) in Blyth is good news for the UK’s burgeoning offshore wind sector.

The decision to cancel the Forgemasters loan is also sort of consistent with the coalition’s desire to see new nuclear entirely funded by the private sector.

We must all hope that the private sector steps in with these plans, because if it doesn’t the lights out scenario that so many energy experts have predicted will be a reality sooner rather than later.