The boss of NuGen has vowed to "fight tooth and nail” to salvage the £15 billion Moorside nuclear power station in an impassioned speech to industry leaders gathered in Cumbria.

Tom Samson, chief executive of the company set to develop the plant in West Cumbria, also told around 150 delegates at the second Cumbria Nuclear Conference at Carlisle Racecourse on Friday, that he was fully behind using the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model to fund the “transformational” project.

In his first public address since NuGen made more than 70 staff redundant because of delays to a deal between current owners Toshiba and prospective buyers Kepco, he warned that the threat of winding up the company was “very real”.

With Toshiba’s exit from NuGen definite, Mr Samson stressed it was crunch time for a project that has the potential to create thousands of jobs in Cumbria and generate around seven per cent of the UK’s energy needs.

“My commitment to Cumbria is that I will fight tooth and nail to find a solution, and indeed a sustainable solution, we can depend upon with real determination to avoid a wind up of NuGen,” he said at the conference, hosted by Carlisle MP John Stevenson.

“The deal with Kepco may still come to fruition, but we cannot just wait for them to make a decision. It is essential that this project (Moorside) goes ahead and we therefore have to consider alternative ways forward.”

Kepco is understood to have a deal for NuGen on the table but will not sign on the dotted line until it has undertaken a study in to the risks and profitability of applying RAB model to finance Moorside, which allows government regulators to ensure stable returns and finance through government support.

Delays to the deal led Toshiba to strip Kepco of “preferred bidder” status in August. Toshiba is now understood to be in talks with a number of other investors including Brookfield Asset Management, which bought Westinghouse from Toshiba at the beginning of the year for $4.6 billion.

But Mr Samson expressed his support for deploying the RAB model to finance NuGen, although he was keen to stress no firm decisions had been made on whether it would be used.

“I am convinced that the model which is now being proposed by the Government could provide NuGen with a viable path forward which puts NuGen in control of its own future,” he said.

“Hopefully it will provide that solution so that we can regain a positive focus on delivering Moorside with confidence in the availability of a long-term funding solution.”

Mr Samson also stressed the importance of nuclear to Britain’s energy mix and took a swipe at the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), an independent body that provides the Government with impartial advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges.

A recent report from the NIC recommended delivering just one more nuclear power station after Hinkley Point C – namely the Horizon Nuclear Power project at Wylfa Newydd – before pausing for around 10 years to gather evidence on how competitive renewable energy and battery storage projects are in comparison.

Mr Samson said NuGen was “deeply shocked” at the suggestion, which could further damage efforts to progress Moorside, and accused the NIC of failing to recognise the complexity of new nuclear projects and their vital contribution to providing a stable source of energy.

Natural gas, he warned, would more than likely be the fall-back option if the recommendations were adopted but proved unsuccessful.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, launched an attack of his own, criticising the government for a muddled policy on nuclear new build.

“If we can’t deliver projects like Moorside then this country is stuffed,” he said.

“Seriously, the government needs to pull its finger out. Yes, Moorside is important to Cumbria but the whole of the North West cares about it too. It is that important.”

Richard Harrington, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who spoke briefly and took questions from the audience, said he was optimistic about the Moorside project.

“I’m very optimistic, but I’m an optimistic person,” he said.

“I think we are going to make progress. But we can’t keep writing cheques for lots of money – we don’t have billions. We have to use creative solutions and we are looking at alternative funding models.”

When asked if the government would consider investing directly in Moorside – a call that has been repeatedly made by MPs, unions and industry leaders– Mr Harrington added: “He (Tom Samson) isn’t asking us for money.”

The Government is understood to be taking a £5bn for the Horizon Nuclear Power project, with the remaining £9bn coming from developers Hitachi and the Japanese Government.

Meanwhile, Paul Foster, chief executive of Sellafield Ltd, made a plea of his own to help ensure the end of reprocessing at the site in 2020 did not mean an inevitable slip in to decline at the site.

He said more needed to be done to “mine” the potential of Sellafield and establish West Cumbria as the nuclear equivalent of oil and gas world leader, Aberdeen.

“We are at a crossroads,” he said.

“We have to evolve. If we don’t and stick to what we know best, Sellafield will shrink, SME spend will shrink, and the whole wealth that comes from Sellafield will shrink.

“We want to partner with companies to take intellectual property and technology used at the site and export them to the rest of the UK and around the world. We can do so much more, sell more and grow that way. But we don’t have a lot of time. Reprocessing ends in two years. If we don’t act, we will go to a default position of decline.”

Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie has stepped up the pressure on Sellafield Ltd, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and government to take action to deal with the impact of reprocessing ending.

Sellafield Ltd has stressed its commitment by investing in projects including Whitehaven Academy, the Buzz Station business hub development in Whitehaven and adopting a no redundancy policy for the 3,000 roles expected to go as a result.

Other speakers at the conference included Douglas McCormick, chief executive of WYG, which has a base in Cockermouth and Professor Mike Thomas and Rick Wylie from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), who spoke about the public value of the nuclear sector.

The event – organised by John Stevenson MP to encourage greater collaboration in the nuclear sector – was sponsored by WYG, UCLan, NuGen and the Centre of Nuclear Excellence.