38.As a large infrastructure project, the construction of Wylfa Newydd will have an impact on the local environment and community in Anglesey. Local residents told us they were worried about the potential impact of construction in terms of environmental damage, including sound and visual pollution, the impact of traffic to and from the site, the need for workers’ accommodation and consequent pressure on the housing market, the impact of an increase in population on services in the area, and the impact on the area’s status as a Welsh-speaking region.
39.Isle of Anglesey County Council told us it supported the project but wanted to ensure that Horizon Nuclear Power took the community’s concerns into account. They said:
“The support of the host community, the Island of Anglesey, is not…unconditional, and is dependent upon collaboration, respect, and recognition that significant lasting benefits are created and adverse impacts mitigated”
40.Alan Raymant appreciated that the construction of Wylfa Newydd would have a major impact and that Horizon Nuclear Power would try to help the community adjust:
“when we get right down into the immediate impact on the community, from things like our increased traffic flows, workers’ accommodation, and so on, then we look at how we can improve the infrastructure to support that, and then also what benefits we can provide the community to mitigate the impact that they suffer, particularly during the construction phase. We make no secret of the fact this is a massive development and it will have a huge impact on a relatively small community.”
41.We were therefore reassured when Isle of Anglesey County Council told us they are already working with Horizon Nuclear Power to help plan for the project. Planning permission has been given for temporary accommodation for 3,500 workers, and a planning application had been submitted for the A5025 road to be improved to handle increased traffic flow. In terms of the power plant, Horizon Nuclear Power has applied for planning permission to Natural Resources Wales and the Environment Agency, with a public consultation to be launched at the end of the year. Ieuan Williams, Leader, Isle of Anglesey County Council, told us they “co-operate closely” with Horizon Nuclear Power and had the resources needed to plan for the Wylfa Newydd project.
42.The enabling works for the plant include flattening two hills, with the resultant 10 million cubic metres of earth being moved to shield the nuclear site from view. Other enabling works include building breakwaters to enable equipment to be brought in by sea and work to enable a 200 metre tall Ibis crane to be positioned on site. Following on from the enabling works, there will be major construction works for an extended period of time. Dr Gwynne Jones, Isle of Anglesey County Council, described the impact:
“At the moment, there is discussion about the effect of moving earthworks on the site, the construction work that could happen for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can imagine that there will be noise and an effect on the environment around that work. There is also the movement of materials needed for the work. One can foresee much movement of lorries. There will therefore be a significant impact on the environment during the construction period.”
43.The National Trust voiced a number of environmental concerns connected with construction of Wylfa Newydd. The National Trust own Cemlyn Bay, which is adjacent to the Wylfa site and is both a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area. They are concerned about the impact of construction on local wildlife, the natural landscape, water quality, the habitat, and on a local tern colony. In particular, the National Trust say that breakwaters and marine off-loading facilities built to facilitate moving equipment by sea could alter natural processes such as sediment transport. The North Wales Wildlife Trust, which manages the nearby Cemlyn Nature Reserve, made similar points in their evidence about the threat to local wildlife and locally important habitats. They state, “there is still sufficient and substantive doubt over the impacts of the scheme and the ability to provide for suitable mitigation” and that more clarity from Horizon Nuclear Power is necessary.
44.The Minister somewhat assuaged these concerns when she described the various approvals that were required:
“The environmental impacts will be a key consideration in deciding whether development consent can be given for a project and there will always be lots of conditions and provisions to make sure that the decision is based on robust environmental information”
45.Isle of Anglesey County Council also expressed concern that in the longer term the project could affect the island’s other important economic sectors. Ieuan Williams Leader, Isle of Anglesey County Council, told us that tourism was the third largest sector of the island’s economy, after nuclear power and the public sector, bringing in £254m each year. It would be important to protect the tourism industry by protecting the landscape of Anglesey and part of this would be to avoid erecting pylons between Wylfa and the mainland. He suggested “Our preferred solution would be [for cables] to go underground from Wylfa to Pentir”.
46.Furthermore, Isle of Anglesey County Council are concerned about the long-term status of the island as a Welsh-speaking area. Other witnesses also said that the identity of the area as a Welsh-speaking region could be threatened by a large influx of workers from outside the area. Dr Gwynne Jones, Chief Executive, Isle of Anglesey County Council told us they would work with Horizon Nuclear Power to protect Welsh culture and the Welsh language:
“Such numbers of workers are a challenge to ensure that we protect the language, communities and culture. We are again discussing mitigation measures carefully with the developer. As the Council Leader said, one way of doing that is through giving permission for more than 2,000 beds in Holyhead. Keeping those workers together goes some way towards to mitigating the effects on the language.”
We also heard from witnesses who thought that the project would be good for the Welsh language. Dyfed Wyn Edwards, Leader, Gwynedd County Council, said his experience was that most workers at Trawsfynydd had been Welsh speakers and that good jobs were required to keep young Welsh-speaking people in the area.
47.As a major infrastructure project, Wylfa Newydd will have a significant impact locally. A number of concerns have been raised by local stakeholders, including local authorities, in relation to the local environment. Horizon Nuclear Power will have to address these concerns, to mitigate the impact of construction and retain the goodwill of the local community. Additionally, there are concerns about the impact of the project on the region’s status as a Welsh language area. An influx of workers from outside the area could reduce the proportion of Welsh speakers. However, as the local authorities pointed out, without jobs, Welsh speakers will leave the area.
48.The impact on the local environment needs to be minimised as much as possible if Wylfa Newydd goes ahead. This should include work to minimise the impact of construction work, for example from increased traffic to the site and from temporary workers’ accommodation. Horizon Nuclear Power should work proactively with the local authorities, local stakeholders such as the National Trust, and the local community to take mitigating actions to minimise impacts, and to ensure that concerns are addressed. We therefore recommend that Horizon establish a local forum, whereby they can engage with the community to address their concerns, and keep them updated with the project. Furthermore, we recommend that Horizon provide Welsh language courses to its employees, so they can immerse themselves in the local culture.
49.During our inquiry we received many submissions from members of the public regarding the environmental impact and safety record of nuclear power stations. Many were concerned about the potential for radioactive contamination of the local environment. Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace, summarised these concerns when he outlined Greenpeace’s opposition to nuclear power:
“our concern has always been based on the issues of radioactive waste, proliferation, accident risk, to which I might add terrorism risk, as well as discharges from accident and routine operation. Solving those problems collectively would be a necessity before we would see nuclear power playing any role, and it has to be said we do not foresee that happening”
50.The evidence we received from members of the public showed that the recent Fukushima disaster and memories of the Chernobyl disaster had formed a basis for these concerns. The local pressure group Pobol Atal Wylfa B (People Against Wylfa B) said:
“A serious release of radioactivity following a nuclear accident at Hinkley, Oldbury, Sellafield/Moorside or Wylfa would turn large parts or even the whole of Wales into a radioactive wasteland. The terrible lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima teach us that nuclear reactors should never be built again.”
51.When the Minister appeared before us, she said nuclear energy was a safe source of energy, and that nuclear power will benefit the environment because of reduced carbon emissions. Furthermore, she emphasised the strong safety and inspection regime and strong regulation of nuclear power in the UK, and told us:
“When you go to an existing civil nuclear site, the calm, measured, entirely safe and robust methods that are in place are really impressive. Yes, I am very confident that it is a very safe, very safely managed means of generating electricity.”
52.Other witnesses, including Energy Fair, conceded that nuclear power does reduce carbon emissions, but it is less effective in doing so than renewables. They posited that this is because there are more carbon emissions in its supply chain (fuel transport, construction) than for renewables.
53.The Minister’s view on safety was echoed by John Warden, Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Institute, who told us that the nuclear industry had a good safety record and that the health risks from radiation were over-estimated. He said:
“If you look at straight industrial safety, nuclear power plants and the nuclear industry have the safest record of any. … Of course, the issue with nuclear is not just the industrial accidents; it is the perception of radiation around that and the potential risk to health that comes from that. From my own background, I well understand that. I am well aware that even on a submarine when you are within 15 feet of the operating reactor you are going to get a bigger radiation dose when you go across the Atlantic in a jet. I am very comfortable with the risks and I understand it. However, I do realise that most of the public do not, and that is one aspect that the Nuclear Institute has a remit to try to educate the public.”
54.A review by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2002 found that, in terms of deaths per unit of power produced throughout the fuel cycle for each energy source, nuclear power was less dangerous than other energy sources, particularly coal. The review found that deaths attributable to nuclear power were in the uranium mining process. By contrast, burning fossil fuels caused a high number of deaths due to air pollution. This was supported by a 2010 OECD-NEA report, and a 2005 EU report. Deaths from coal power in the US cause 15,000 deaths/trillion KW/hour, whilst the equivalent figure for nuclear is 90 deaths/trillion KW/hour.
55.Lessons have also been learned following the Fukushima incident, with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) travelling to the site of the accident to review what had happened following the earthquake and tsunami. Dr Richard Savage, ONR, told us that their report, which included 38 recommendations, has been used by the UK nuclear industry to improve safety:
“These recommendations have been taken extremely seriously in the UK [by industry and regulators]. ONR has produced a report summarising progress against these recommendations on an annual basis since Fukushima;…Our last assessment, which was issued in February this year, shows that…all the most significant recommendations have been addressed.”
The ONR said that they continually review and enhance their standards to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place. Furthermore, they try to ensure that foreseeable events can be guarded against or prevented and that stress tests and resilience are used to prepare for unforeseen events.
56.Members of the public and environmental groups often pointed to the recent Fukushima accident as a reason to question the safety of nuclear power and abandon plans for new nuclear build. While the main causes of the Fukushima incident (earthquake and tsunami) are unlikely to occur in the UK, we were pleased to hear that the ONR conducted a major review following Fukushima and that the most significant recommendations have been implemented. Therefore, we conclude that the ONR will be able to regulate nuclear power in the UK to ensure its safety. We were particularly impressed by their professionalism and their ability to prepare for worst case scenarios.
57.However, the disparity of views should not be ignored. To meet the concerns of the public, it is important that the Government generally, and Horizon Nuclear Power more locally, inform the population about how nuclear power is regulated so that it operates safely. Information on the environmental impact should also be made widely available and easily accessible. Horizon Nuclear Power have done some work on this, and more information should be made available if the final site licence is granted.
58.The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) is responsible for nuclear safety and security at 37 nuclear sites and for nuclear transport in the UK. It oversees new nuclear build, operational reactors, and decommissioning, as well as nuclear defence sites. It sets out a site licence for operators, carries out inspections to hold them to the licence, and suggests safety improvements. Its enforcement powers range from offering advice to initiating court proceedings.
59.The ONR is conducting the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for the reactor at Wylfa Newydd. This is the first part of the regulatory process for new nuclear reactors, which assesses the safety, security, and environmental impacts of reactor designs. Instigated by a formal government request, the GDA is a four step process that takes about four years to complete, becoming more detailed over time, and allows the reactor designers to work with the ONR to make any necessary modifications. The process requires regular updates to be published on the ONR’s website, where it is possible for the public to comment on the design. The ONR told us:
“[the GDA] will normally be requested for new nuclear reactor technologies intended for construction in [UK]. It provides a systematic assessment of the design of potential new reactors, ensuring the designs meet the safety and security expectations of the UK’s regulatory framework.”
60.In addition to passing the GDA, a developer must also receive a site licence from the ONR (based on the design being safe to operate in a specific place), environmental permits from the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales, and planning permission from DECC before building a nuclear power plant.
61.The Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) completed the third stage of the GDA process—a detailed assessment—in October 2015. It is now on the fourth stage—a detailed design, safety case and security evidence assessment—which the ONR expects to last until the end of 2017.During the process, the ONR can raise ‘Regulatory Observations’, which are potential regulatory shortfalls that should be addressed, and ‘Regulatory Issues’, which are serious shortfalls. The latter can prevent a reactor from receiving design acceptance. Currently, there are 37 Regulatory Observations and two Regulatory Issues for the ABWR. Horizon Nuclear Power has published resolution plans for all of these, and Mike Finnerty Deputy Chief Inspector, ONR, told us:
“The signs are positive. There is still work to do, but the timescale is December of next year and there is no reason to doubt why they would not achieve that timescale.”
He added that because the GDA has a stage-by-stage process, there would not be any surprises and “any big showstoppers we expect would have come to the table already”. Greg Evans Operations Director, Horizon Nuclear Power, also told us that the design of the ABWR had also been altered and improved to take account of the advice of the ONR and the lessons of Fukushima.
62.Once a reactor has been approved for use in the UK, and subsequently approved for use at a specific site, the ONR will then conduct periodic inspections. The inspections ensure that operators comply with their operating licence and include in-depth reviews to ensure safety and security at nuclear sites. In addition, the ONR ensures that sites have appropriate emergency preparations and response plans for nuclear accidents. The ONR will carry out these roles at Wylfa Newydd, and has the necessary resources already in place in Anglesey, because of the presence of Wylfa A. Dr Mina Golshan, Deputy Chief Nuclear Inspector, ONR, told us the ONR has also worked with the local authorities to ensure they have emergency plans in place and that action could be taken quickly in the event of an incident at Wylfa A:
“the site has an offsite emergency planning area that the local authority is responsible for. They inform the public on any incidents that may arise. Information is provided and, in the unlikely event of emergency, certain countermeasures are provided to the public.”
63.The Minister confidently told us that ONR is “one of the world’s top nuclear regulators” and that it is capable of ensuring that Wylfa Newydd operates safely. In particular, she said that ONR will ensure that if there was an accident at Wylfa Newydd, the appropriate action would be taken:
“The Office for Nuclear Regulation also sets the boundaries…for detailed emergency planning zones around sites, which determine the area over which they consider countermeasures would need to be deployed in the very unlikely event that there was an incident.
She also explained that local authorities have a legal duty to develop adequate plans, which includes the provision of information about the actions to take in the event of an incident. The Department for Energy and Climate Change has recently updated and revised the material it provides to support local authorities, which is now clearer and more user friendly.
64.The diligent and professional approach taken by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) should ensure that any new nuclear power plant will be as safe as possible. The Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for approving any new nuclear power plant is rigorous and that communication between Hitachi-GE, Horizon and the ONR has been clear and candid. We hope that the process will continue to proceed quickly while ensuring the safety case is thoroughly examined. The ONR have also reassured us that there are clear and detailed emergency plans for any possible accidents at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd, and that preparations are in place to deal with such contingencies, coordinated with the local authorities.
54 Isle of Anglesey County Council ()
59 National Trust ()
60 North Wales Wildlife Trust ()
63 See People Against Wylfa B (), Q167, Q184
66 See Elfed Jones (), Wayne Jones (), Fi Carroll (), David Orwin (), Malcolm Smith (), Timothy Richards (), Mike Parker (), Ornella Saibene (), Robat Idris (), Marit Parker (), Philip Steele (), Jill Gough (), Ron Stirzaker (), Bob Llewelyn Jones (), and Dr David Lowry ()
68 People Against Wylfa B ()
73 International Energy Agency, , June 2002
74 Nuclear Energy Agency, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, , 31 August 2010
75 European Commission, , 2005
76 “”, New Scientist, 23 March 2011
77 Office for Nuclear Regulation, , September 2011
80 Office for Nuclear Regulation, , accessed 22 June 2016
81 Office for Nuclear Regulation ()
82 Office for Nuclear Regulation, , accessed 22 June 2016
21 July 2016