Wylfa nuclear power station on Isle of Anglesey

Wylfa nuclear power station on Isle of Anglesey

Nuclear Energy: Made in Wales?

Published 15/04/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

New nuclear projects offer economic opportunities for Wales, but the lack of clarity and certainty about future plans is hindering efforts to build the necessary skills base. This is a central conclusion in the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs (ETRA) Committee’s recent report on nuclear energy and the Welsh economy.

Its inquiry focused on the potential economic impacts of new nuclear developments in Wales including job creation, skills and supply chains. This article looks at the Welsh and UK Government’s nuclear energy policies and examines some of the key issues that featured in the Committee’s inquiry.

What’s the UK Government’s policy?

Nuclear energy policy is largely a decision for the UK Government. However, both governments have responsibilities for the economy and skills.

The UK Government’s British Energy Security Strategy states that new nuclear power is critical to meeting net zero carbon emissions and ensuring the UK’s energy self-sufficiency. It has committed to bringing at least one largescale nuclear project forward by the end of this Parliament and two further projects in the next Parliament. It is highly likely that Sizewell C in Suffolk will be the one largescale nuclear project this Parliament, as it is the most developed project to date.

New nuclear developments can be either in the form of traditional largescale reactors or the new technology of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). As yet, SMRs are still in development phase and there are none operational in the UK.

The UK Government has established Great British Nuclear (GBN) as an arms-length body to deliver its nuclear ambitions and support new developments.

What’s the Welsh Government’s position?

The Welsh Government has said that its approach to achieving net zero carbon emissions is broadly compatible with, and complimentary to, UK Government policies. It has also acknowledged the significant role that nuclear energy can play in decarbonisation and is supportive of the deployment of new nuclear projects on existing sites at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd.

In 2022, the then Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething MS stated the “importance of the nuclear sector in Wales” and the “contribution the sector makes in sustaining local economies, developing communities and helping to create jobs”.

Cwmni Egino, a Welsh Government-owned company, was established by the Welsh Government in 2021 to deliver a site development plan for Trawsfynydd “focused on socio-economic growth”.

Will there be new nuclear projects in Wales?

There are proposals to bring nuclear to Wylfa on Anglesey, but any new nuclear developments in Wales depend on decisions yet to be made by the UK Government.

In January this year, the UK Government published: ‘Civil nuclear: Roadmap to 2050’. It commits to “exploring a further large-scale reactor project and setting out timelines and processes this Parliament”; this is subject to Sizewell C reaching a final investment decision.

There are proposals to bring nuclear to Wylfa. Bechtel (a construction project management company) and Westinghouse (a nuclear technology and manufacturing company) are proposing to build two AP1000 Pressurised Water Reactors at Wylfa. EDF Energy has also indicated an interest in the Wylfa site, saying that if the UK Government decides that there is to be another gigawatt scale project after Sizewell C, then “Wylfa is an excellent site”.

In March it was announced that GBN is buying the land at Wylfa from Hitachi. It’s believed that the land at Wylfa could house both large-scale reactors and SMRs.

GBN is running a SMR technology selection competition where it’s expected that contracts will be awarded to the successful technology companies this year. The successful bidders will be allocated sites and receive funding. Cwmni Egino is aiming for Trawsfynydd to be the site of the first SMR under construction in the UK. However, Simon Bown of GBN told the Committee that it’s “unlikely” that Trawsfynydd would be at the “front of the queue for the current selection process”.

The Committee noted that neither Wylfa nor Trawsfynydd are mentioned in the UK Government’s nuclear roadmap and called for “certainty in Wales about future nuclear development”.

How much could nuclear impact the Welsh economy?

According to the Nuclear Industry Association, the nuclear industry is currently worth £700 million to the Welsh economy and the industry supports over 800 jobs.

The Welsh Government says that a development at Wylfa has “the potential to be the single largest investment project in Wales and therefore likely to have a significant impact on the economy and communities on Ynys Mon and the wider north Wales region”.

Bechtel and Westinghouse have recently completed construction of two AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle in George, USA. Bechtel says “at its peak, the Plant Vogtle project provided more than 9,000 jobs and is anticipated to provide more than 800 permanent, high paid jobs for decades”.

Cwmni Egino says that an SMR at Trawsfynydd will boost the regional economy with over £600 million Gross Value Added (GVA) for north west Wales and £1.3 billion for the whole of Wales. The company believes that an SMR at Trawsfynydd will create more than 400 jobs, providing employment for over 60 years.

What are the skills and supply chain challenges?

The Nuclear Industry Association highlighted current UK wide skills shortages across the construction workforce. The Committee heard that the workforce is ageing, that young people need to be made aware of the opportunities in the sector and have confidence that these are long term jobs. It was also told that around 80% of jobs needed for nuclear projects are not ‘nuclear specific’, therefore there is competition for skilled workers with other large infrastructure projects such as renewable energy developments.

Bechtel told the Committee that “the world is experiencing a nuclear renaissance” which “is already placing significant demands on the availability of skilled people”. The Committee’s report highlights the “risk from competition and pressure on global supply chains to support nuclear development” and states that this pressure “makes it even more important to have clarity on the UK’s nuclear programme”.

The Committee’s report recommends the Welsh Government and other key stakeholders have a clear workforce plan for any new nuclear projects.

On Wednesday 17 April, you can watch Senedd Members debate the Committee’s findings about the future of nuclear energy plants. Whether nuclear will be ‘Made in Wales’ is a significant question, yet to be answered.

Article by Lucy Morgan, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament