The nuclear project at Wylfa NewyddUK-based Horizon Nuclear Power announced that it will cease its activities to develop nuclear new-build projects at Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey and at Oldbury on Severn in South Gloucestershire. This followed the decision by Horizon’s parent company, Japan’s Hitachi Ltd, it would end business operations on the UK NPP construction project, which was suspended in January 2019.

Hitachi said 16 September it had made this decision “given that 20 months have passed since the suspension, and the investment environment has become increasingly severe due to the impact of Covid-19”.

Horizon Nuclear Power, which Hitachi acquired in November 2012, had planned to develop two nuclear power stations, the first comprising two UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) reactor units at Wylfa Newydd in Anglesey, North-West Wales, estimated to cost £15-20 billion ($19.5-26bn). The new facility would have been built next to the old Wylfa power station, decommissioned in 2015.

Hitachi-GE's UK ABWR completed the UK’s Generic Design Assessment process in December 2018. The ABWR is already licensed in Japan and the USA. The two ABWR units planned for Wylfa Newydd would have been the first commercial boiling water reactors in the UK.

Hitachi said it will coordinate with the UK government and relevant organisations regarding its cooperation as the owner of ABWR licence and the handling of the planned construction sites and other matters. The decision is not expected to have a significant impact on Hitachi's business results as Hitachi had posted an impairment loss and other expenses of JPY294.6 billion ($2.8m) on consolidated financial results for the year ending 31 March 2019 due to the suspension of the project. Hitachi expresses its deepest gratitude to the UK government, the Wales government and residents, the Japanese government and other stakeholders for their continued support and cooperation.

After activity was suspended in 2019 due to the absence of a clear funding package for the lead Wylfa Newydd project, Horizon maintained the capability to remobilise in the event that a new financing model was re-established. This included over ten years of stored project data and knowledge, applications for permits and licences and a small core team of staff and contractors. 

Horizon has now said it will now take steps for the orderly closing down of all its current development activities. However, it "will keep the lines of communication open with Government and other key stakeholders regarding future options at both sites."

Horizon CEO Duncan Hawthorne said: “Nuclear power has a critical role to play in helping tackle our energy needs, meeting our climate change targets and levelling up the economy through green growth and job creation."

“Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey and Oldbury on Severn are highly desirable sites for new nuclear build," Hawthorne added. "We will do our utmost to facilitate the prospects for development which will bring the major local, national and environmental benefits that nuclear can uniquely deliver as we push to transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2050.”

Reaction to Hitachi's decision to abandon Wylfa Newydd

Pressure group People against Wylfa B have consistently opposed the new plant for environmental and safety reasons. It welcomed Hitachi’s decision and called on the company to “ensure that no nuclear scheme can happen on the site in the future, should it be sold to another developer”.

The cancellation of Wylfa Newydd and Oldbury has destroyed hopes of creating thousands of new jobs. Up to 9000 jobs would have been created on Angelsey if the project had gone ahead. Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) CEO Tom Greatrex said the decision was “'disappointing news which nevertheless underscores the urgent need for progress on new nuclear projects in the UK if net-zero carbon emissions is to become a reality”.

Greatrex added: “It is imperative that a way forward is found for the site, to deliver thousands of jobs, hundreds of apprenticeships and millions of pounds of investment into an economic boost for the area while delivering secure, reliable and low carbon power to underpin the UK's transition to net zero.”

Alan Whitehead, shadow minister for energy and a green new deal, said: “We are already in the middle of an economic and unemployment crisis, yet the Government has been completely silent on the potential loss of this power station and the economic impact for Anglesey and the region."

The Unite union called on the Government to unveil its energy White Paper. National officer Peter McIntosh said: “We desperately need clarity in the energy White Paper which ensures nuclear power is a crucial part of the energy mix in the decades ahead, providing a source of clean and reliable electricity, as well as creating skilled ‘green’ employment. A strong commitment to new nuclear will give a confidence boost to the future development of such sites as Bradwell, Moorside and Sizewell, following the devastating announcement yesterday that Hitachi won’t be proceeding with the Wylfa project.”

Nuclear new build in the UK

Nuclear power currently accounts for around a fifth of the UK's electricity, down from 25% in the late 1990s, and this is set to decline even more in the years ahead with the older advanced gas-cooled reactors nearing the end of their operating lives. Currently, the only plant under construction in the UK is Hinkley Point C in Somerset where two EPR units are being built by EDF Energy in partnership with China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN).

Other projects are under consideration for sites at Bradwell (Essex), Moorside (Cumbria) and Sizewell (Suffolk).

EDF and CGN plan to build new EPRs at Sizewell C plant, which will be "almost identical" to Hinkley Point C. At Bradwell, CGN (66.5%) and EDF Energy (33.5%) are consulting on plans to build a power station using Chinese HPR1000 technology. The UK HPR1000 design is currently in the final step of the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation’s four-stage generic design assessment process.

NuGen, the UK joint venture between Japan's Toshiba and France's Engie, had planned to build a 3.8GWe nuclear power station at Moorside, in West Cumbria, using Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor technology. In November 2018, Toshiba, the sole owner of NuGen after others pulled out of the original consortium, announced it was withdrawing from the new-build project, and NuGen was wound up. However, the Moorside site, which NuGen bought from the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in 2009, is still designated for nuclear new build.

In June, a group of companies, trade unions and individuals launched an initiative to develop a Clean Energy Hub centred on a package of nuclear projects at Moorside, including a new 3.2GWe UK EPR plant, as well as small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors, with links to renewable and hydrogen technologies.

According to a recent NIA report, 59,600 people work in the UK nuclear sector, including 24,000 in the North West, and around 4500 at the Hinkley Point C site.

Photo: Horizon is ceasing its activities to develop a nuclear power plant at Wylfa Newydd  (Credit: Horizon)