Pressure on UK Government to stump up £20m for island nuclear testing facility
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Pressure has been heaped on Government ministers to stump up funding for a proposed £40m thermal hydraulic test facility on Anglesey.
Aiming to boost the UK’s nuclear new build programme and development of Small Modular and Advanced Modular Reactors, it would create around 30 jobs as well as further benefits to the local economy.
With the island’s MP pushing the Chancellor for answers in the Commons this week, Anglesey’s economic development chief has also expressed disappointment there was no reference to any forthcoming funding in the UK Government’s recent spending review.
Writing to Greg Hands MP, who heads the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Cllr Carwyn Jones called for clarity with the Welsh and UK Governments already agreeing in principle to split the National Thermal Hydraulic Research and Testing Facility’s £40m price tag.
“I have expressed my disappointment that the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget and Spending Review did not retain the previously allocated £20m capital contribution for the proposed new development on Anglesey,” said the Plaid Cymru councillor, claiming it “created uncertainty” for the 2018-unveiled development.
Funding and momentum
“Hosting a state-of-the-art R&D facility would be complimentary to the island’s longstanding support towards nuclear development.
“The Energy Island programme now more than ever has the potential to play a significant role in future energy, employment and R&D activity across all energy generating sources.
“It is very encouraging to see the momentum behind Rolls Royce and potential future SMR’s development, in fact they would probably be a potential first customer for such an important national facility.
“There is a real danger if funding and momentum is not maintained we could see the testing for this development take palace in Italy or the US.
“As we stand the Welsh Government are also very supportive and have the match funding in place, however we must accept this ‘match’ could well be lost if the UK Government are not prepared to support.
“I have urged the UK Government to reaffirm its commitment to, and confirm the funding allocation for, the development and delivery of the National Thermal Hydraulic Research and Testing Facility on Anglesey.”
When approached, a spokesperson for the Welsh Government said, “We have been working with the UK Government since 2017 on the proposal for a UK national Thermal Hydraulic Testing Facility (THTF).
“We approved £20m in principle at the time for the project, to be match funded by the UK Government. Both governments are now working on updated business cases to secure contributions for the proposal.”
The UK Government’s BEIS department said it had nothing to add, but Ynys Mon MP Virginia Crosbie pressed ministers for further details in the Commons this week.
During Treasury Questions on Tuesday the Conservative member said, “My Ynys Môn island constituency has one of the lowest GVAs in the UK and is in desperate need of investment to reverse this inequality.
“Can the Chancellor confirm that match-funding announced in the Nuclear Sector Deal is in place for the proposed Thermal Hydraulic Testing Facility?”
In response the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said: “If my Honourable Friend forgives me for not treading on the toes of the Business Secretary but what she will know is that we allocated £120 million for future nuclear development in the budget and spending review.
“I know it’s an area of keen interest to her and something she has long campaigned on in her area and I’m happy to support her in her conversations with the Business Secretary as he decides how to allocate that funding.”
It had been proposed that such a facility could be based as M-Sparc in Gaerwen, although other sites on the island are also thought to be under consideration.
While not itself handling radioactive materials, the planned facility would house test scale models to support the design of safe and efficient advanced nuclear power systems.
Focus on thermal hydraulics – the movement of heat and fluids in the reactor system during the conversion of nuclear energy into electricity – could also have wider uses in non-nuclear thermal hydraulic testing.
If based on Anglesey it would be only one of three worldwide, with the others found in the USA and Italy.
Speaking later, Ms Crosbie added, “I fully recognise cross party-political support for this project and look forward to our regular meeting this week to collectively take stock.
“The development of a new business case shows everyone is keen to get this facility over the line.
“I have been working very hard to secure a funding solution for the project including speaking with relevant ministers.”