Wylfa Newydd: Hitachi suspends £20bn nuclear plant

Artist’s impression

Plans for Wylfa Newydd have been suspended.

Hitachi have confirmed all work on the £20 billion nuclear power plant has been put on hold, blaming rising construction costs and a lack of investors.

After weeks of speculation over the project’s future, the Japanese firm confirmed it was planning to write off its £2.1 billion investment. The decision was made at a board meeting in the early hours of Thursday.

Duncan Hawthorne, the chief executive of developers Horizon, an Hitachi subsidary, said talks with the UK and Japanese governments had failed to reach an agreement.

Anglesey Council said it was ”profoundly disappointed” by the announcement – but added it hope the project would eventually go ahead. An emergency meeting has been called in the council’s chambers.

But opponents to the scheme have welcomed the announcement. Campaign group PAWB (People Against Wylfa B) said the decision was ”a relief for all of us who worry about the future of our island, our country, our language, our environment…and renewable energy.”

The decision puts almost 400 jobs at risk – and potentially, up to 9,000 in all – if the project is scrapped altogether. Around 65 staff are currently based on Anglesey – but most are now expected to lose their jobs, with only a skeleton staff being kept at the site.

Plans for a smaller reactor at Oldbury in Gloucestershire have also been put on hold.

Horizon CEO Duncan Hawthorne said: ”We have been in close discussions with the UK Government, in cooperation with the Government of Japan, on the financing and associated commercial arrangements for our project for some years now. I am very sorry to say that despite the best efforts of everyone involved we’ve not been able to reach an agreement to the satisfaction of all concerned.”

”In the meantime, we will take steps to reduce our presence but keep the option to resume development in future.”

”Clearly, this will have a significant impact for all involved with our project. We will look to minimise this as much as possible as we move into this next phase and we will begin consultation on the implications immediately with our staff who have shown extraordinary talent, resilience and determination to take this complex and exciting project to this stage.”

Mr Hawthorne added he believed nuclear power remained critical to the UK’s needs for ”secure, low carbon and affordable energy ” and that Wylfa Newydd was still the best site for development.

He said: ”We remain committed to keeping channels of communication open with the Government and our other key stakeholders regarding future options at both our sites.”

The future of the project had been thrown into doubt. Last week, Hitachi denied it had made a formal decision to suspend the project following reports from the Nikkei Asian Review.

And last month, the Welsh Government called in a decision by Anglesey Council to grant planning permission for clearing work to go ahead at the proposed site.

Council leader Llinos Medi said they were still in regular contact with Horizon and the Welsh Government but added: ”My main concern is the immediate impact on local men and women whose employment is at risk as a consequence of this suspension, especially those at the Wylfa Newydd site in North Anglesey.”

The council executive’s member for major projects, Councillor Carwyn Jones, said they remained firmly committed to the project: ”Wylfa remains the UK’s best site for new nuclear build and we remain a willing host community. These are critical factors, which have been acknowledged by senior Hitachi executives during ‘face to face’ meetings.”

Albert Owen, the island’s Labour MP called on the UK Government to ‘pull out all the stops’ and find a plan B to keep the development viable: ”The announcement is a massive blow to the local, Welsh and UK economies and we must now look forward to leave no stone unturned to move the project in the right direction.”

”We have been here before, the Wylfa site is one of the best sites for new nuclear. It has the permits and consent and has an excellent skilled workforce of some 400 including apprentices.”

”The project is worth billions and has massive potential to create between 8000 – 10000 construction jobs and hundreds of highly paid long term jobs. It is potentially the biggest project in Wales linked to the North Wales Growth deal and its projects.”

”Both the UK Government and the company Hitachi have a responsibility to turn this suspension into an ongoing opportunity that benefits the locality, the wider country and our energy security. I will work with all stakeholders for this to happen.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth, the Plaid Cymru AM for Ynys Môn, said: ”My thoughts this morning are with the large number of staff and apprentices already employed by the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey. It’s a very worrying time for them. But I’m thinking also about those who’ve pinned their hopes on future employment there.”

”Now we have to look at ways of moving forward. The UK Government has to show if it’s serious about backing Wylfa. Their actions so far have delivered little.”

”We have other exciting projects in the pipeline and underway on Anglesey, including in the renewables energy sector and the Menai Science Park. But it’s the sheer scale of Wylfa with over 800 long terms, well-paid jobs, that would leave a gaping hole if this suspension does ends up being long term.”

But a spokesperson for PAWB (People Against Wylfa B) said they had warned for years that the costs associated with the project would ultimately prove fatal.

They added: ”The legacy of this is that over a decade has been wasted on Wylfa, with very little alternative economic planning in evidence. Our young people have been promised jobs on very shaky foundations. Good land has been destroyed to create infrastructure to back the project.”

”It is time for politicians and officials from the UK Government, the Welsh Government and Anglesey to admit that they were wrong. Wales is rich in natural resources which can be used to create a vibrant and sustainable energy future, and above all else create more jobs in less time than Wylfa would have done.”

The group called for the ongoing Planning Inspectorate inquiry into Horizon’s bid for a development consent order to be halted. They also called on both Anglesey and Gwynedd county councils to replace their local development plans.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business and Energy said the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, had set out last June that any deal for the UK Government needed to ”represent value for money and be the right one for UK consumers and taxpayers”.

Prime Minister Theresa May was heavily criticised by unions and politicians for not bringing up Wylfa Newydd when she met with her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, last week.

Tom Greatrex, CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association, said the announcement was ”disappointing, not just for the Wylfa Newydd project, but for Anglesey and the nuclear industry as a whole.”

”It’s regrettable that this project has been suspended, especially as a considerable amount of groundwork has already taken place on the Wylfa project, including creating a supply chain to deliver the project…it is imperative that new nuclear at this site goes ahead and the barriers to that are removed.”

The GMB union warned Hitachi’s decision had raised the ”very real prospect” of an energy crisis in the UK – they atttacked the UK Government for leaving ”vital matters” to go by the wayside while it had ”its head up its proverbial backside over Brexit”.

Unite described the move as a ”disaster” for the economy and future energy needs. National officer Peter McIntosh said: ”It is the latest chapter in the sorry saga of recent UK energy policy…this government should be held to account as it has no coherent policy and has, yet again, let the country down. The lights are going out when it comes to energy policy.”

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