Posted: Sat 20th Apr 2024

Calls for urgent clarity of future of nuclear energy developments in North Wales for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

MSs called for urgent clarity from the UK Government on the future of new nuclear energy developments in north Wales.

Paul Davies led a debate on a committee report about nuclear energy and the Welsh economy, saying there is huge potential for the industry.

The economy committee chair said nuclear power could provide an enormous economic stimulus, with thousands of jobs and billions of pounds’ worth of investment.

Mr Davies described the UK Government’s long-awaited decision to buy the Wylfa site on Anglesey as an important step forward.

However, the former Conservative group leader said decisions on Wylfa and Trawsfynydd are urgently needed.

‘Hopes dashed’

Mr Davies raised concerns that the UK Government’s 2050 nuclear plan, which was published in January, did not mention either site.

He welcomed the tone of the UK Government response to the committee’s report but cautioned that there are still no clear answers.

Raising the importance of managing expectations, Mr Davies warned that people in north-east Wales have had their hopes dashed in the past.

He said: “People in north Wales want clarity on what the future holds for them. Certainty is the key to building confidence.”

Mr Davies also highlighted that new nuclear projects would bring in many workers from outside north Wales, placing additional pressure on local housing stock.

‘Energy security’

Samuel Kurtz, the Conservative MS for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, raised the potential economic impact of small modular reactors (SMRs).

He said: “Just one SMR, for example, could provide 400 to 500 jobs while in operation, many in servicing and maintenance, plus the many jobs that would be created in construction.

“And many of these SMRs could be built.”

Luke Fletcher called for a wider inquiry on energy to weigh up the pros and cons of nuclear.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow economy secretary raised concerns that Welsh Government cuts to apprenticeship funding will exacerbate skills shortages.

‘Clear commitment’

Jack Sargeant called for a clear commitment to new nuclear projects to give workers, the supply chain and training providers confidence to invest.

The Labour MS for Alyn and Deeside raised concerns about the significant scale of the nuclear workforce challenge, with a shortfall of nearly 10,000 people.

Rhun ap Iorwerth criticised the UK Government for failing to support the Hitachi Horizon project at Wylfa Newydd in his Ynys Môn constituency.

The Plaid Cymru leader told the Senedd that apprentices who started on the Wylfa Newydd project moved out of the area to work at Hinkley Point.

He said: “The UK Government has made a mess of its nuclear plans, and the committee is right to note that we still don’t have a clear idea of what those plans are.”

‘Bottomless pit’

Carolyn Thomas argued vociferously against nuclear energy, saying the industry is in retreat globally and uranium reserves are expected to be depleted by the end of the century.

The Labour backbencher highlighted the spiralling costs of up to £46bn for Hinkley Point.

She said: “One nuclear station takes up to 17 years to build, with construction taking approximately ten years. On-costs and decommissioning costs are a bottomless pit.”

Ms Thomas, who represents North Wales, told the chamber that nuclear will never fill the energy gap on its own as she called for more investment in wind, wave and solar.

She added: “Investment and political will should be focused on achieving a sustainable future – and that cannot be done with nuclear.”

‘Managing expectations’

Responding to the April 17 debate, Jeremy Miles said the Welsh Government is broadly supportive of nuclear projects but cautioned that costs must be borne in mind.

Wales’ new economy secretary pointed out that powers over nuclear are reserved to Westminster, so the UK Government is responsible for driving new investment.

Mr Miles said: “Let’s be clear: the responsibility for managing expectations lies principally in the hands of those capable of realising those expectations, which is the UK Government.”

But he stressed that new nuclear projects present opportunities for significant economic change, so the Welsh Government will seek to play its part.

Mr Miles said Cwmni Egino, a Welsh Government-backed company, was established to progress potential new projects at Trawsfynydd.

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

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