Our inquiry into Nuclear Energy in Wales builds on the previous work done by this, and our predecessor Committees, to explore how likely it is that there will be a successful new nuclear development at Wylfa in light of the UK Government’s shift towards nuclear energy. Despite the rise of nuclear energy up the policy agenda to address both climate change and the UK’s energy security, the question of new nuclear at Wylfa has been ongoing for over a decade.
There are two historic nuclear sites in Wales, at Wylfa on Ynys Môn and Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd. Hitachi/Horizon Nuclear Power attempted to bring new gigawatt-scale reactors to Wylfa Newydd, land next to the decommissioned Magnox reactors. However, Hitachi withdrew from the development in 2020 after failing to reach a financing agreement with the UK Government. The land is still managed by Horizon Nuclear Power through Hitachi.
In March 2023, the UK Government published ‘Powering Up Britain’, a series of documents which set out how it will enhance energy security and deliver on net zero. In the documents, the Government recommitted itself to the aims within the British Energy Security Strategy. These aims were to have 24GW of nuclear energy by 2050 and to take one nuclear project to final investment decision in this Parliament and two further projects in the next Parliament.
We heard of the attractiveness of Wylfa as a site for new nuclear, which would be welcomed by many on Ynys Môn; however, we also heard from the local group People Against Wylfa B (PAWB) which oppose new nuclear at Wylfa. We heard arguments for a whole electricity system run on renewable energy alongside using storage technology. However, this technology is not there yet, and therefore, on balance, we consider that nuclear energy has a strong role to play as part of a mix of low carbon energy sources.
While gigawatt-scale reactors are a proven technology, Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are still in the development stage. We heard of the opportunities that SMRs at Trawsfynydd could also bring to the north Wales area, in particular from Cwmni Egino, the Welsh Government’s nuclear development company for Trawsfynydd. However, we consider that if the UK Government is serious about new nuclear energy it needs to pursue new gigawatt-scale reactors alongside SMRs.
While the introduction of the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model of funding for nuclear energy projects is welcomed, there are still significant financing challenges associated with nuclear infrastructure. In order for a development at Wylfa to progress, important obstacles remain regarding financial commitment and raising the capital needed.
In 2016, our predecessor Committee reported on the importance of the nuclear industry to the north Wales economy in providing highly skilled, well-paid jobs to a rural part of the UK. We reiterate these points and believe that new nuclear developments could be a game-changer for the regional economy. We also heard of the Welsh workers and businesses already contributing to the Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C projects which demonstrates that at least part of the skills and supply chains required for such projects are available in Wales. However, a new development at Wylfa will require significant scaling up of the current supply chain and skills provision in north Wales.
We question how long the uncertainty about whether or not a new nuclear build will be delivered at Wylfa can continue. If there is to be new nuclear at the site, the issue of ownership of the land needs to be addressed and we believe the UK Government has a role to play to ensure the site is available for future development. Our overarching view is that new nuclear at Wylfa is not certain despite the progress being made, and more concrete commitment is required from the UK Government to deliver a project at Wylfa.