A few days have now passed since Horizon Nuclear halted plans to develop the Wylfa B Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) new nuclear programme in Anglesey.
Amidst on one hand, calls that energy security is under deep threat, and on the other that the economic future of Anglesey and Wales is in a state of crisis, it is clear that the decision by Hitachi to halt the development over the financial risks to the company is controversial, but it has to be said largely a correct one. The immediate increase in Hitachi’s share price from the decision is a pointer to see how the financial markets saw it, despite Hitachi already sinking in substantial resource to the project.
Let’s not forget that Hitachi are not the first energy utility to come to the conclusion that new nuclear build in the UK is not a particularly viable prospect. The German utilities RWE Npower and E-on previously tried to develop the site before they sold it on Hitachi in order to protect their own vulnerable energy market share in the UK and Germany. British Gas owner Centrica pulled out of supporting Hinkley Point C, as did GDF Suez and Iberdrola at Moorside, before Toshiba almost collapsed after unwise new nuclear investments in the United States forced it to pull out of the Sellafield Moorside development just a couple of months ago. If these ‘titans’ of the energy world cannot get new nuclear to work, then this growing trend should be telling the Government that the time for real change in energy policy has to now come, and indeed it is most overdue.
NFLA welcome parts of Energy Minister Greg Clarke’s statement to Parliament last week which suggested the Government was finally coming to the conclusion that new nuclear is becoming potentially financially prohibitive. In the NFLA’s view, small modular nuclear reactors would be part of this overly expensive trend and are no alternative panacea. Prioritising Bradwell B, Sizewell C and any other sites is not that practical either, given these are not likely to come to fruition until after 2030, and the recent IPCC report says urgent low carbon action is required in the next decade, as much as the one after that.
For Anglesey Council, the Welsh and UK Governments the core issues it should look at now include:
- Prioritise renewable and decentralised energy projects instead. Wales should follow a similar trajectory to Scotland and also consider establishing a Publicly Owned Energy Company. The Welsh Government should also consider creating a ‘Just Transition’ scheme to help energy workers. (1)
- Anglesey Council should read the NFLA’s reports on decentralised energy and speak to other Councils who are successfully delivering such projects. (2)
- The Welsh Government should lobby the UK Government to seek resumption of funding for the Swansea tidal lagoon project, which was part of a suite of similar schemes for Cardiff and Newport in South Wales and Liverpool Bay in North Wales.
- We should stop thinking there is an ‘energy crisis’ in the UK when these new nuclear schemes are shelved. Actually electricity demand has reduced in the past decade due partially to the success of energy efficiency and smart energy schemes. These could be prioritised even further in Wales, creating new jobs and reducing fuel poverty – a true ‘win, win’ scenario.
- The Governments and the media should reconsider the ‘intermittency problem’ with renewables. The creation of a wide range of renewables, linked with increased investment in energy battery storage and ‘smart’ energy demand IT products could create the sort of flexible, sustainable energy market the country actually needs, and intermittency could be significantly reduced.
- The ‘reliable’ base power of new nuclear also needs to be reconsidered. For example, the two reactors of Hunterston B have been closed for approaching six months due to maintenance issues and increased keyway root cracks being found, but there has been no energy crisis.
It really is time to see a systematic change in UK and Welsh energy policy. For too long senior politicians have put too much faith in new nuclear, while the global energy market is seeing renewables being deployed quickly, ever more cheaply and providing reliable energy. The UK needs to wean itself off nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and follow the path of other European countries to fully embrace renewable and decentralised energy. Local authorities can play a really positive role here and local job generation and economic vitality is available through such a policy change.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“The halting and potentially final cancellation of the Wylfa B project has not surprised the NFLA. We have been consistently saying for some time that the financial models of new nuclear do not work and the alternatives of renewable and decentralised energy should be prioritised now. I encourage the local Council, the Welsh Government and the UK Government to provide practical, financial support to Anglesey and come up with some imaginative new policies that restore the growing renewable energy revolution across the country. No other European country is actively embracing new nuclear, and many more rather see the benefits of a reprioritised renewable and decentralised energy future. Now is the time to do likewise as we urgently ramp up policies to reduce carbon and the most harmful effects of climate change.”
NFLA Welsh Forum Chair, Councillor Ernie Galsworthy added:
“I call on my fellow councillors in Ynys Mon Council to refocus its energy strategy. The ‘Energy Island’ model can still work by focusing on the rich renewable energy resources that exist in and around Anglesey and neighbouring Gwynedd. Come and work with the NFLA and understand more fully how Councils can take a pro-active lead in supporting such low carbon projects and provide much needed jobs at the same time. It is likely that only a small amount of the 9,000 jobs mooted for Wylfa B would have ever gone to local people, given the experience of other new nuclear projects in Europe. But with decentralised energy all of the jobs can stay local and the wider local community will greatly benefit. There is a positive energy way forward for Ynys Mon and it should embrace it quickly.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA Policy Briefing 170 on a Scottish Publicly Owned Energy Company, August 2018
(2) See NFLA Policy Briefing 184 on Just Transition for Hunterston B workers, January 2019; and NFLA Policy Briefing 175 on Decentralised energy and the climate change imperative, May 2018