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South Korean state-owned nuclear developer in talks to build UK plant

Energy industry

South Korean state-owned nuclear developer in talks to build UK plant

Kepco has held discussions about developing Wylfa Newydd site on Anglesey

Jack SimpsonSun 12 May 2024 14.28 BSTShare

South Korea’s state-owned nuclear developer has discussed building a multibillion-pound power plant in Wales with the UK government, it has emerged.

Kepco, the largest utility provider in South Korea, has held early-stage discussions with Westminster officials about developing the Wylfa Newydd site on the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn), the Financial Times reported.

The energy minister Andrew Bowie is expected to meet representatives from the company this week to discuss the matter as part of the annual UK civil energy dialogue talks between the UK and South Korea.

The government is aiming to revive the project as part of its plans to generate 24 gigawatts of energy from nuclear by 2050, a significant increase from the 6GW currently produced.

It was initially hoped that the Japanese developer Hitachi would build two reactors on the site, but Hitachi pulled out in early 2019 because of rising costs, throwing the site’s future into doubt.

In March this year the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, confirmed that the UK government had reached a £160m agreement with Hitachi to buy Wylfa and the site of the Oldbury plant in Gloucestershire, with the hope of finding new investors.

One industry source told the FT: “Kepco is certainly interested in the project and the company is in talks with the UK government about it.” A UK official briefed on the matter said talks were at an early stage.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “Wylfa has excellent potential and we welcome the interest of all parties who are looking to invest in UK nuclear projects.”

The Kepco chief executive and chair, Kim Dong-cheol, visited the Wylfa site last November as part of a South Korean delegation looking at UK nuclear opportunities.

Virginia Crosbie, the MP for Ynys Môn, said the delegation had told her it “was a better nuclear site than any they had” because of its grid connection and abundance of cooling water around the site.

Kepco also struck a memorandum of understanding with the global engineering, management and development consultancy Mott MacDonald last year to explore UK nuclear opportunities and support the company with licensing and site development.

The American nuclear developer Westinghouse and the construction group Bechtel have proposed building a new plant at Wylfa using Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor technology.

Kepco would be aiming to use its APR1400 reactor technology, which has recently been deployed at the Barakah nuclear energy plant in the United Arab Emirates.

The other option being weighed up for the Wylfa site is whether to use it to host a number of new small modular reactors (SMRs), which are designed to be cheaper and quicker to build than large plants, but the technology is still unproven.

The decision on the technology provider, and what type of technology should be used at Wylfa, will be made by Great British Nuclear, which was launched with the aim of providing new power stations, including a fleet of SMRs.

Despite the UK’s nuclear ambitions, only one plant is under construction – Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Its sister project, Sizewell C in Suffolk, received a nuclear site licence last week.