Spanish utility Iberdrola said it is selling its 50 per cent stake in the British nuclear venture NuGen to Toshiba of Japan, in a deal that will give a boost to the UK nuclear programme.

NuGen – a joint venture between Iberdrola and France’s GDF Suez – owns a site near Sellafield in the northwest of England, where it plans to build a 3.6 gigawatt nuclear power plant.

In an announcement to the Spanish stock exchange, Iberdrola said it had sold its NuGen stake to Toshiba, the owner of nuclear constructor Westinghouse, for £85m.

The deal means that nearly all of the biggest players in the international nuclear industry now have a foothold in the UK.

It comes two months after the British government signed a contract with French state-owned utility EDF to build the £16bn Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset. Chinese state-owned group CGN is expected to take a stake in that project.

Meanwhile, Hitachi, the Japanese technology group, last year acquired Horizon – another UK nuclear consortium, which had been put up for sale by German utilities EON and RWE. Horizon owns the right to build reactors at Wylfa in North Wales and Oldbury in Gloucestershire.

NuGen was created in 2009 and the same year bought a 190ha plot of land north of Sellafield. It announced plans to submit a planning application for a nuclear power station by the end of 2014, to be called Moorside. But the project has been dogged with delays and tensions between Iberdrola and GDF Suez, and is thought unlikely to meet that deadline.

Whitehall officials say now that Toshiba has entered the venture, NuGen will apply to the authorities for an extension of the option on the Moorside site.

Toshiba is seen as an ideal partner for NuGen because its AP1000 reactor design is close to gaining UK regulatory approval and so could be deployed relatively quickly.

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