The UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Alok Sharma on 30 September agreed to an extension to December 31 of the decision on the Development Consent Order (DCO) for Wylfa Newydd "so that you can consider options with your key stakeholders to secure the future of the project".
The DCO process, which relates to planning applications for major UK infrastructure projects, has been under consideration for Wylfa since June 2018.
Horizon Nuclear Power (a Hitachi subsidiary) was to develop two UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor units at Wylfa Newydd on the island of Anglesey in North-West Wales. However, in September, Hitachi announced it would end its business operations on the Wylfa project. Horizon subsequently said it would take steps for the "orderly closing down" of its development activities at the site. Work on the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey was suspended in January 2019 because of rising costs
Sharma’s decision followed two letters to BEIS from Horizon CEO Duncan Hawthorne, requesting an extension to the DCO decision.
In the first letter on 22 September, Hawthorne wrote to Gareth Leigh, head of energy infrastructure planning at BEIS, noting that "a short extension to the decision deadline would be beneficial to enable Horizon to work constructively with its key stakeholders to ascertain the options for the Wylfa Newydd DCO Project and secure its future".
His second letter, on 28 September, said Horizon was "engaged in discussions with third parties that have expressed an interest in progressing with the development of new nuclear generation at the Wylfa Newydd site". He added: “These discussions are still at an early stage and it is felt that a short deferral would allow time for Horizon and those interested parties to determine whether, and if so, how the Wylfa Newydd DCO Project could be taken forward in Hitachi, Ltd's absence." He gave no details, noting that the discussions were "commercially sensitive".
Hawthorne's open letter on 25 September to the affected Welsh communities asserted that the Wylfa Newydd site "remains the best in the UK, if not the whole of Europe, for new nuclear power development". He added: “I, and my team at Horizon, will do our utmost, along with our stakeholders and supporters, to make sure the opportunities that Wylfa Newydd represents, can still be taken."
This came after reports that US firm Westinghouse was among the parties interested in the site. Welsh Government Economy Minister Ken Skates confirmed that there was US interest in reviving plans for a nuclear plant on Anglesey. In 2012 Westinghouse lost out to Hitachi in a bid for the Wylfa site. Its AP1000 design has completed the generic design assessment process with UK regulators. AP1000s were to be used by NuGen, the UK joint venture between Japan's Toshiba and France's Engie, at Moorside, in West Cumbria until Toshiba withdrew from the project in November 2018.UK Shadow Minister for Climate Change Energy and Rural Affairs Janet Finch-Saunders said: “Wylfa Newydd remains the prime location for new nuclear in Wales, especially when you consider the skilled workforce here in North Wales. “This extremely important project would not only ensure energy security for the people of Wales, but it marks a pivotal step forward in levelling up our nation’s economy to help with the process of decarbonisation.” The Wylfa project would also have created 9000 jobs during its construction phase.
Nuclear development considered for Trawsfynydd
Elsewhere in Wales, nuclear development is being considered for the former nuclear power plant at Trawsfynydd. Welsh Economy Minister Ken Skates on 30 September announced the establishment of a site Development Company to be known as Cwmni Egino. It will help to exploit the economic benefits of small modular reactors and associated technologies on site, including the potential for a medical research reactor, to produce medical radioisotopes for Wales, the UK and Europe.
The Welsh Government is now pressing ahead with plans to establish Cwmni Egino to support developments at Trawsfynydd.
“There is no doubt that there is huge potential for the development of small modular reactor technologies at Trawsfynydd. To be able to maximise and deliver this we are establishing Cwmni Egino to pursue this to the full, ensuring this great potential is unlocked,” Skates said.
“There is expertise and skill in the nuclear field in North Wales, with AMRC Cymru and developments at Bangor University, as well as the sites at both Trawsfynydd and Wylfa. I want to ensure that we make the most of this and are at the forefront of new developments.”
He added: “While we had disappointing news on Wylfa Newydd a fortnight ago, the fact remains that it is one of the best sites in the UK for a new nuclear development. The establishment of a Development Company at Trawsfynydd shows our commitment to the nuclear sector in North Wales,”
Tim Stone, Chair of the Nuclear Industry Association added the creation of a development organisation to maximise the future opportunities from the site at Trawsfynydd is a wonderful step on which the Minister and the Welsh Government should be congratulated. "It represents a proactive response from a government which recognises that government's responsibilities include ensuring that nationally significant infrastructure is provided in plenty of time to support national economic competitiveness and prosperity”.
Photo: The Welsh government announced Cwmni Egino has been set up to support developments at Trawsfynydd.