Anglesey backed as location for first in new wave of nuclear power plants

Interest in the possibility of turning Wylfa into a site for new nuclear power stations since its current plant was decommissioned has existed for years.

But such is the support for the new US project that Mr Hart will visit one of Westinghouse’s nuclear power stations in the US state of Georgia during an official trip to America this week.

Why nuclear-powered stars are starting to align

“Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today… What is lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight.” 

As a renowned pioneer of many things in history, nuclear energy isn’t really one for which Winston Churchill is immediately recognisable. Yet, as always, his foresight and attention to the big issues of the future was meticulous.

In the decades following Churchill’s words, nuclear energy would dominate the international debate for more adverse reasons than even he may have predicted. The divisions between East and West were inseparable from the nuclear paradox.

In 2022, the debate has come full circle and we’re once again fixated on the more enticing side of nuclear energy, building on the vision that Churchill had nearly 100 years ago. It is a great source of disheartening and satiric irony that, at a time when relations between Russia and the West are at their coldest, nuclear energy is once again at the centre of discussions.

The merciless Russian invasion of Ukraine has put domestic energy security back on the agenda of many countries around the world and, even though the UK only relies on Russia for a small amount of our supply, it is at the top of the Government’s agenda too. 

Yes, it is true that other countries are in a much more precarious position, but we in the Government are taking the situation very seriously. We need to take back control of our energy supplies, and we need low carbon power more than ever. 

Nuclear must play a bigger role

In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has been very forthright with his views on the role that nuclear should play within that ambition. It is a reliable and powerful source of energy, and we need to give it much more of an enhanced role in our energy supply than has been the case in recent decades. 

This is no way contradicts our ambitions for a low carbon future, and we aren’t just looking at nuclear in the traditional sense. The industry has undertaken rapid developments in recent years, and within nuclear energy itself there is diverse range of technologies that we are going to tap into.

Small modular reactors will allow us more flexibility to harness this energy source, overcoming certain restrictions that are part and parcel of larger plants. These are the smaller fires separate to the main bonfire, requiring a lot less space and easier to put together.

And then there is nuclear fusion, based on a different scientific process (dividing or colliding; traditional fission is the splitting of nuclear atoms, and fusion is when nuclear atoms come together). By harnessing the same power used by the sun, nuclear fusion will transform our energy infrastructure. Instead of lighting our bonfires with matches, we’re now starting to use lighters. 

The UK has the potential to lead the world in both areas, and a combination of them all alongside other renewable energy sources such as offshore wind and tidal will provide a winning recipe for complete green energy self-resilience. Nuclear alone means thousands of homes powered and tens of thousands of high-skilled jobs created. Wales is best placed to be the engine of this nuclear growth.

We’ve been central to the scientific history, having played a role in the development of the atomic bomb at Rhydymwyn Valley Works near Mold, in Flintshire. This involved the development of a fine membrane through which uranium hexafluoride passed, a membrane which was made by Mond Nickel Company in Clydach, near Swansea. At the time, this was the only place in the world that could produce nickel for the membranes. 

An unrivalled opportunity

But now we need to start writing the next chapter in that history, and the nuclear-powered stars are already starting to align. Wales has only ever had two nuclear plants, both of which are now decommissioned. One of these is on Anglesey in the form of Wylfa, and the other at Trawsfynydd, in Gwynedd. The experts say that these sites are some of the best in Europe, never mind the UK.

For large-scale nuclear, like Hinkley Point, Wylfa Newydd offers an unrivalled opportunity and it continues to attract the attention of nuclear developers from key allies across the globe. 

The local support is resolute, and it’s an infrastructure project that could transform the whole of the North Wales region whilst creating thousands of jobs in the process. Trawsfynydd, on the other hand, is the smaller of the team, yet its credentials are just as impressive. Rolls-Royce (which has designed a small modular reactor and is one of the leading manufacturers for this emerging tech) has previously said that there was a “pretty high probability” Trawsfynydd could house the first SMRs by the early 2030s.

All these opportunities lend themself to the creation of a North Wales nuclear arc, a cluster of nuclear excellence. This delivers on all the Government’s key agendas – levelling-up, strengthening the union and delivering on net zero. 

Soon the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary will outline the energy security strategy, of which nuclear energy will be a central crux, and I will be visiting the US to talk to partners about how Wales can drive the success of joint US and UK ambitions. More than a bonfire, North Wales can become the beacon of the nuclear world.

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