New nuclear power stations in Wales would have a big impact on our constitutional future – so why the lack of debate?
Ifan Morgan Jones
Boris Johnson delivered a killer blow to the possibility of a new nuclear power station on Wylfa last week by promising that it would be built.
With the Prime Minister’s record on the bridge to Ireland, ‘Boris island airport’, HS2, the London garden bridge and a myriad other half-baked and yet undelivered projects, nothing seems to be the kiss of death for a big infrastructure project like Johnson’s backing.
In all seriousness, however, whatever the UK Government’s energy reviews plans, it seems almost unavoidable that Wales will see at least one if not a handful of new nuclear power plants built over the next few decades.
There are currently plans for no fewer than five nuclear reactors in Wales, with US nuclear company Westinghouse, a consortium led by Rolls-Royce, and a company backed by an investor in Elon Musk’s businesses all showing an interest in building reactors both big and ‘modular’.
And perhaps most curiously of all, there is no real national debate developing around whether we want to revisit this most controversial of technologies in Wales, only a decade after the original Wylfa shut down.
As Welsh Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State David TC Davies noted on Sunday Supplement, there has been a remarkable amount of political unity on the question of new nuclear power, with the Labour Welsh Government actively pushing for development at both Wylfa and Trwsfynydd.
The only major Welsh party leader to ring a note of caution has been Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price who has said that nuclear would be the “wrong answer” and that renewables should be the way forward.
But Plaid Cymru’s de facto policy seems to be to face both ways on the issue, with the party’s Anglesey council leader Llinos Medi actively supportive of Wylfa and Dafydd Wigley saying much the same in the House of Lords.
Ball and chain
But one major issue that has not been discussed in any great detail is the impact of nuclear on Wales’ constitutional future. Building, running and decommissioning nuclear power plants is hugely expensive, with the original Wylfa alone set to cost £2bn just to wind down.
In a UK context, the decision to build new nuclear power plants arguably makes financial and foreign policy sense as it may be the only way to reach net-zero while ensuring a regular and reliable source of power that does not come with great political complications.
Wales however already produces twice as much energy as it uses and in the context of an independent or financially autonomous nation, more jobs alone could be scant reward for the long-term cleanup costs.
Indeed, if Wales were to have one or even multiple nuclear power plants it could become a very effective argument against Welsh independence or even any further financial autonomy. ‘How is Wales going to pay for Wylfa B?’
There would also be questions over the nuclear expertise to run existing plants, and where the nuclear waste would be stored. It is currently karted off to the Sellafield facility in west Cumbria. England would be unlikely to want to keep receiving it if Wales did break away.
Any new nuclear plant would also complicate things politically for any breakaway state. One little remarked upon motive for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was that the latter has four nuclear power plants, all built while part of the Soviet Union, that feed Russia’s electricity grid.
It is no surprise therefore that the SNP, who have realistic hopes of Scottish independence within the next decade or so, have completely refused to allow any new nuclear plants to be built there at all. And it can’t just be concerns about jobs that motivate Labour to put huge political pressure on them to do so. A new plant would be a significant ball and chain tying Scotland to the UK.
What to do about the Trident nuclear submarines and the jobs they bring is already a headache for those advocating for Scottish independence but this is one form of nuclear that could not be sent swimming down the Clyde.
From a Welsh perspective, there are clearly pros and cons to new nuclear power. But whatever option is chosen, it would be a long term decision. If Wylfa B was built it might well be the end of the century before it was decommissioned.
The name of the UK Government’s nuclear project, ‘Great British Nuclear’, is a clue that to a large extent this is a project that intends to bind the UK together for good. Wales may want to think more carefully about whether it wants to make such a long term commitment.
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He is right. This merits discussion.
There is no debate because hosting such an oversized (for our purposes) nuclear power station would make it harder for us to divorce ourselves from the Empire in future. They would say we have to pay for something too large for our needs.
There is no debate because both main parties in the Empire are OneNation zealots.
If we want to free ourselves, we need to oppose this ourselves because politicians won’t
Can’t see there’s much to discuss, Starmer has come out in favour, the tories are having orgasms over the thought of nuclear along with fracking, Lib Dems will go along with the tories, That leaves Plaid to fight our corner once again, I would say unless there is some serious direct action taken, nuclear power stations are a forgone conclusion.
I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Wylfa B was in the consultation and planning stages with two separate companies – Horizon and Hitachi – for around ten years. Both times, it fell through with the site not being deemed “economically viable”. It won’t be so easy to get it off the ground again, nevermind build multiple power stations across Wales.
The choice for Plaid Cymru must be: You can either support Great British Nuclear’s power stations or independence – but not both.
Cytuno, mae nhw yn methu cael e y ddwy ffordd. Na i Niwcs
For those who envisage independence as slightly more devolution and perhaps slightly less overlordship from our neighbours, new nuclear capacity will just be seen as helpful cooperation. Carwyn Jones may be correct in assessing this to be the majority view at the present time. But Mr Jones might recognise this to be a dynamic situation. As more people have become supportive of devolution with closer acquaintance, so too more will come to recognise the benefits of real independence, and the case for the latter will eventually prevail. Ifan Morgan Jones is right to draw attention to the pre-emptive nature of nuclear energy. It is a clear… Read more »
The article does hit upon a very serious point. I think it is very likely we will be independent within the next 10 years, certainly 20, so do we really want an albatross around our neck with a nuclear power plant in Ynys Mon, tying us to England? Especially, with the potential of so much green clean energy to be had in Cymru.
Ok, when we achieve independence we can sell our surplice energy, along with our surplice water to England at a good price. We will be in the strongest position we have ever been, and the people of Cymru will benefit from independence.
No. A new nuclear power station on Ynys Mon is going to present an almost insurmountable barrier to Welsh sovereignty in the long term, and will give an impetus to further integration in the short term. Johnson holds all the cards if Wales allows a second Wylfa. All this, on top of the fact that such an installation would be surplus to Wales’ needs if green energy projects are allowed to go ahead. It simply must be prevented. IMJ’s article crystalises the problem succinctly.
76% of Wales’ electricity is generated by fossil fuels.
That has to be replace the Whether the nationalist element thinks it applies to them or not.
If anything RWE and EON will take the decision move out of their own accord as their business model changes.
And as for the ridiculous notion that “billions of it all goes for free…”
Moral superiority doesn’t run a country…
And our surplices to England’s clergy!!! All in good humour
The cost of decommissioning sellafield to the uk govt was a massive £70 billion. There’s no question the cleanup costs of decommissioning any future nuclear plant at wylfa would bankrupt a future welsh govt and so put the kybosh on hopes for an independent Wales – and maybe that’s why the british state is so keen to plonk a new nuclear power stations in Wales. Everyone who wants to see an independent Wales must oppose UK Govt plans for new nuclear power stations in Wales.
The so-called discussion will be one-sided by the Conservatives I feel, namely. Wales you will take our Nuclear plants whether you like it or not. What England wants it usually gets because Unionist in Wales collapse like a row of dominoes out of blind deference.
“One little remarked upon motive for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was that the latter has four nuclear power plants, all built while part of the Soviet Union, that feed Russia’s electricity grid.”
Do you have a source for that?
nuclear power – stone age answer to the problem.
Anything Johnson and Co. suggests should be thrown out rather than discussed.
And anybody thinking of voting tory in the upcoming elections, would do well to remember the photo of Felix Aubel standing beside his vote leave banner altered to vote beaver! Didn’t he have to emigrate in the end?! The tories and their ideas are a complete laughing stock!
Estonia, population under 2 million, and a country to which Wexit proponents suggest we should emulate, is planning nuclear power in order to transition from carbon-heavy oil shale.
If they can do it, why can’t we?
Perhaps what Ifan is saying by this article is that actually, Wales is too poor to become independent and sustain even the same standard of living it currently endures.
If they build new nuclear plants on Ynys Mon and in Traws they will in effect have defeated North West Wales for they will have to garrison them if only on paper…
The Senedd should audit just exactly who owns what in Wales. The way things are going what has not crossed the border has gone south…
So maybe it would be better if Gwynedd were to do its own stock take and see what remains in local ownership. They could start with Zip World…