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expert reaction to news that Hitachi will halt work on Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant

Reactions to news that Hitachi will halt work on a nuclear plant in North Wales.

Dame Sue Ion FRS FREng, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“This is a tragedy, all down to a flawed ‘leave it to the market’ approach with no consistency in policy and it proves there are limits to markets.

“The UK must be the only developed nation on earth leaving our critical energy infrastructure beholden to overseas entities. There are some things which the government has an ultimate duty to deliver and they cannot duck the fact that they have responsibility for nationally significant infrastructure. Successive governments, not just this one, have said they want nuclear energy in the mix so they have to ensure it happens.

“Whether it’s pause or cease by Hitachi it’s not just about the jobs to operate the site – they are being quoted in the hundreds, but it is thousands when you consider the construction period and the supply chain. It’s a devastating blow for North Wales and for the nuclear sector generally and leaves the Government’s Nuclear Industry Strategy in tatters and companies across the whole sector unwilling to invest further.

“This blows a hole in our journey to low carbon-reduced emissions. It is a fallacy to think we can provide the UK’s energy with intermittent renewables alone, nuclear energy is an essential source of large scale low carbon reliable secure electricity for decades to come for an industrialised society. No country has relied on renewable energy alone for its essential electricity power. When the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing where do you think we’ll get the essential power from? We remain a pretty isolated island with very limited links to draw power from the continent. As we electrify transport we need more electricity on our grid – probably double what we have now. We are running out of time as our existing nuclear stations retire over the next 10-15 years.

“Nuclear is cost-competitive when all the system costs and back up required for renewables are accounted for. Strike prices for the Wylfa follow-on units were predicted to be about the same as the very cheapest offshore wind on only the second build – so there’s a path to lower prices just as there was with offshore wind – but this is starting at a lower level AND without the cost of intermittency. If we don’t have cheap, bulk electricity we’re at an economic disadvantage as a nation. That’s the real issue here.

“If nothing is done, gas will be our backstop and we will be vulnerable to overseas supplies for decades to come.”

Prof Neil Hyatt, Professor of Nuclear Materials Chemistry at the University of Sheffield, said:

“This is grim news for the UK nuclear industry and there is now a gaping hole in UK energy strategy. The planned nuclear development at Wylfa, with the one near Sellafield – cancelled in November – would have supplied about 15% of the UK’s electricity supply, replacing current nuclear stations which will cease generation in the early 2030s.  The decision to abandon these developments reflects the high up-front cost of construction and long time frame for return on investment from nuclear power generation. 

“Government must act urgently to address this challenge, to enable private and public financing of new nuclear power stations, whilst ensuring affordability for consumers: time is running out, the UK is heading for an energy crunch.”

Declared interests

Prof Ionis the independent chair of the UK’s Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB). This Board is comprised of academics and industry representatives from across the nuclear sector, appointed for their technical expertise in matters covering the whole nuclear landscape, from reactors and generation to nuclear waste management and decommissioning. She is paid a normal standard Government daily rate for her time in chairing the committee but the views she and the Board give are independent.

Prof Hyatt: “I am an independent academic expert on radioactive waste management and disposal; key sponsors of my research include UKRI, EC, NDA, RWM Ltd.”

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