Anglesey economic chief reiterates Wylfa support as new firm shows interest in building nuclear plant
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
Anglesey’s economic development chief has reiterated the authority’s support for a new nuclear development but remains adamant that a secure funding model must first be found.
A senior UK Government official confirmed at a recent meeting of Westminster’s Welsh Affairs Committee that initial discussions have taken place with consortia interested in building another nuclear plant at Wylfa.
Hitachi’s Wylfa Newydd development was scrapped last year after failing to reach a funding deal with the UK Government on the multi-billion pound construction and start-up costs of such a plant.
Despite claims that islanders “have had their hopes raised and dashed time and time again,” US firm Westinghouse’s description of the island as a “perfect location” for a new nuclear build has also seen engineering partner Bechtel confirm “exploratory” talks regarding a proposal.
Talks have also taken place with UK firm Shearwater Energy, looking at hybrid plans for small nuclear reactors and a wind farm.
But while nuclear has its opponents even locally – with a strong lobby against any new development – there has also been much support on an island still reeling from a series of economic blows including the shut down of the previous Magnox plant which provided hundreds of well-paid jobs.
With reports of energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng being receptive to more nuclear builds – amid concern about rising energy prices and that an aging fleet will result in nuclear providing only 8% of the UK’s energy by 2024 – Anglesey Council’s economic development portfolio holder has expressed “cautious optimism.”
In a BBC Wales interview on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that “governments in this country have refused to take the tough decisions on nuclear for too long.”
He added: “We do need to go forward with more nuclear power. I do think it should be part of our baseload. So that’s why yes, of course, we’re looking at Wylfa as well as lots of other projects.”
Plaid Cymru councillor Carwyn Jones, echoing the authority’s long-running principled backing to a new plant, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’m pleased that there seems to be support from UK Government Ministers to invest in a new site on Anglesey, especially the project development phase, which will hopefully be confirmed in the Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn.
“The county council remains supportive to see a new development progressed on Anglesey, but clarity and certainty is now required.
“Wylfa continues to be one of the best sites for new nuclear development in Europe and its future development has the potential to create local jobs and economic opportunities for the next 60 years.
“The project remains an integral part of our Energy Island Programme and undoubtedly play a key role in the Welsh Government and UK Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050, while providing the UK with security of energy supply.
“However to achieve net zero, energy demand will need to be double the current levels by 2050. This cannot be achieved without the reliable, 24 hour a day baseload energy provided by nuclear technology.
“With an ageing fleet of existing nuclear reactors and with only one new nuclear power station currently under construction, the scale of the task is unprecedented.
“The economic benefits would extend across the island, north Wales region and beyond.”
David Durham, President of Energy Systems at Westinghouse, said it was unlikely that any nuclear builds would be developed without being part of a regulated market backed by state or national governments.
He added that one of the reasons nuclear is expensive is that “everything needs to be precise” due to the safety issues, but that even with Government support they “assumed” substantial risks and weren’t putting all costs and risks on UK Government and British tax and electricity bill payers.
During the Welsh Affairs Committee meeting Declan Burke, director of nuclear projects and development at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, (BEIS), said they were looking at the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model where revenue is made by the investors while construction is taking place due the huge cost and long period of capital investment.
Coming from consumers and/or taxpayers ahead of the plant being completed, he added: “We absolutely think nuclear would be a very critical part of Net Zero but it does need to work for the taxpayer perspective as well.”
Anti-nuclear groups remain as adamant as ever that such technology is not the way forward for Anglesey, however.
Dylan Morgan of People Against Wylfa B (PAWB) described nuclear power as “slow, dangerous and extortionately expensive.”
Adding that the history of the Wylfa Newydd site was a “perfect illustration of this complete waste of time and money,” in an open letter to the First Minister he wrote: “The technology itself is very old fashioned, dangerous because it uses uranium which creates nuclear wastes with long lives, threatening to human life and the environment and is extortionately expensive.
“It would be totally irresponsible to spend millions of pounds on a site which is not considered suitable by the Planning Inspectorate for large nuclear reactors.”
But in light of US interest the island’s MP, Virginia Crosbie, said that the acting American ambassador to the UK, Philip Reeker, has asked to visit the Wyllfa site for himself.
Having already met with potential partners Bechtel, Westinghouse and Rolls-Royce – with the latter looking at mini reactors – Ms Crosbie added, “To now have the interim US Ambassador actually ask to visit is another huge vote of confidence in our island and its potential.
“Nuclear is vital to the UK’s energy security and its net carbon neutral ambitions. Wylfa Newydd is the best site in the UK for it to happen, US and UK companies want to be involved and I will do everything I can to align all this and make sure it gets off the ground.
“Of course, there is much to do and much to talk about but the will is clearly there on behalf of the private sector and the UK Government and I will not stop until we have Wylfa Newydd back as a viable project.”
Cllr Jones said the authority had not been made aware of any planned visit but would welcome the opportunity to discuss the development with Mr Reeker.
Senedd member Rhun ap Iorwerth has struck a more cautious tone, however, mindful of hopes being dashed in the past.
Calling for clarity from the UK Government, he added: “Prospects of a new Wylfa development have been raised and dashed time and time again.
“I and others worked hard over a number of years to try to build a project that reflected the needs of the local community, both in terms of skills and jobs, and mitigation against the challenges of such an enormous project.
“Government indecision led to the collapse of that project, and the community needs to know where it stands before it can commit again.”