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Government announces plan for Wylfa 'mega-nuclear power station

Government confirms it is pursuing plans for a third large scale nuclear plant to follow Hinkley Point and Sizewell projects

The government has today announced it wants to see a large scale nuclear power plant built at Wylfa on Anglesey in North Wales, having acquired the site from Japanese engineering giant Hitachi earlier this year.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero confirmed it has designated Wylfa as its 'preferred site' for the development of the UK's third new 'mega-nuclear power station', which would follow the Hinkley Point project that is under construction in Somerset and the planned new power plant at Sizewell in Suffolk.

The government said it is now looking to kickstart talks with global nuclear developers to explore the potential to deliver another major nuclear project in North Wales capable of providing enough clean power for around six million homes a year.

"We are powering ahead with the biggest expansion of nuclear energy in 70 years," said Claire Coutinho, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. "Anglesey has a proud nuclear history and it is only right that, once again, it can play a central role in boosting the UK's energy security. Wylfa would not only bring clean, reliable power to millions of homes - it could create thousands of well-paid jobs and bring investment to the whole of North Wales."

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in the Spring Budget that the government had reached an agreement with Hitachi to acquire both the Wylfa site and a second site at Oldbury in South Gloucestershire in a £160m deal. The move came after the developer shelved plans for new nuclear plants at both sites back in 2020, having failed to reach an agreement with the government for a support package for the projects.

The sites were acquired by the government-backed Great British Nuclear agency, prompting speculation they could be used to enable the government's plans for a fleet of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

But the government today argued the Wylfa site is well suited for a large scale nuclear project, given its proximity to water for cooling and its heritage as the location of one of the UK's first nuclear power plants. It added that Great British Nuclear aims to announce successful bidders for its SMR competition by the end of this year.

Gwen Parry-Jones, CEO at Great British Nuclear, said: "Having agreed to purchase the Wylfa site earlier this year, GBN looks forward to working with the government on the market engagement programme for large scale gigawatt providers and also delivering this vital project in the years to come."

The news was welcomed by Tom Greatrex, chief executive at the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), who said the government was "absolutely right to pursue more large-scale nuclear alongside the SMR programme". "It is proven technology that delivers clean, sovereign power and can transform communities with thousands of high quality, long term jobs and apprenticeships," he added. "Wylfa is an ideal place for a big nuclear project, and the community knows nuclear."

However, the decision is likely to face fierce criticism from some green groups, which have long questioned the cost effectiveness of relying on new nuclear power plants to help decarbonise the grid.

Earlier this year, Hinkley Point developer EDF confirmed further delays and cost-overruns at the flagship project that mean it may not be online until after 2030. Meanwhile, the government and EDF are yet to finalise additional investors for the new Sizewell plant, which will see the government take a direct stake despite concerns the financing arrangement could see taxpayers exposed to the risks associated with the project. As such, critics have warned new nuclear projects could push up the cost of decarbonising the grid at a time when renewables and energy storage costs are expected to fall further in the coming years.

But advocates of new nuclear plants counter that the experience and skills base built up at Hinkley Point should curb development costs and construction risks at future projects, while the delivery of projects capable of reliably providing up to seven per cent of the UK's power should play a critical role in ensuring net zero goals are met.

In related news, nuclear technology firms X-Energy UK Holdings and and Cavendish Nuclear today announced they have commissioned Teesside University to undertake a study of the potential regional economic benefits of a proposed multi-billion pound nuclear power station project in Hartlepool.

The work is part of a £6.68m programme funded by X-energy and the UK government, which awarded the firms £3.34m in April this year from its Future Nuclear Enabling Fund as it looks to advance plans for a new fleet of nuclear projects.

X-energy is proposing to build its Xe-100 advanced modular reactor plant by the early 2030s, next to Hartlepool's existing nuclear power station which is scheduled to close this decade.

"Advanced modular reactors are the future of nuclear technology, with the ability to generate clean reliable power for homes and heat to decarbonise industry," said Minister for Nuclear and Renewables, Andrew Bowie. "New nuclear projects could provide jobs and investment for local communities across the UK, and we look forward to seeing the benefits of a potential new nuclear plant in Hartlepool."