Letters written to ministers by Horizon Nuclear Power chief Duncan Hawthorne have revealed that plans to construct a nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd in Anglesey may not be dead in the water, after Japanese firm Hitachi pulled the plug on the scheme in September.
Developer Horizon Nuclear Power has written two letters to ministers to say that talks with other “third parties” are ongoing, with a decision on planning consent now pushed back from its initial date of late September to December 31.
Horizon chief executive Duncan Hawthorne wrote to business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Alok Sharma on September 22 and September 28 to request a “short extension” on the deadline for the government’s planning permission decision concerning Hitachi’s original plans for the site.
Hawthorne's second letter to Sharma read: "Since Hitachi Ltd's announcement to cease development activities associated with the Wylfa Newydd DCO [Development Consent Order] Project, Horizon has been engaged in discussions with third parties that have expressed an interest in progressing with the development of new nuclear generation at the Wylfa Newydd site.
"These discussions are still at an early stage and it is felt that a short deferral would allow time for Horizon and those interested parties to determine whether, and if so how, the Wylfa Newydd DCO Project could be taken forward in Hitachi Ltd's absence."
Hawthorne said that he could not disclose any further detail about the talks or the parties involved due to commercial sensitivity, but said that he and his team would work hard toward a “positive conclusion” at which stage he said the government could be provided with a “more comprehensive update, including the extent to which this could materially impact on the development consent order currently before you for determination."
The Development Consent Order process for the site has been under consideration since June 2018.
After Hitachi failed to come to an agreement on funding with the UK government, work on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear project was halted in January 2019. On September 16, 2020, Hitachi then announced it would end its association with the project after a 20-month pause, citing the Covid-19 pandemic making “the investment environment become increasingly severe”.
The talks to resurrect the project will come as a boost to north Wales pipe welding, fabrication and installation firm Moretube Engineering, which like several local firms had harboured hopes of being involved in the supply chain for the Wylfa Newydd project.
Addressing the matter, Moretube Engineering director Richard Davies [pictured left] said: “With workshops in Wrexham and Anglesey, we are ideally located to support many of the local transformational projects which aim to support and promote the growing low-carbon energy sector.
“Energised by the promise of some of the largest infrastructure projects in north Wales for generations, there is an atmosphere of anticipated prosperity in the region. We are determined to become a key part of the local supply chain, in particular in relation to the construction of Wylfa Newydd, the proposed new nuclear power station on Anglesey.”
Should the construction of the Wylfa Newydd site get the go-ahead, Davies anticipates that the timely and effective completion of the project could be blighted by the long-standing skills shortfall in the UK, with estimations that 500 welders of various disciplines will be needed to help make it possible.
Davies admitted: “We know from our own experience that there is a shortage of skilled and qualified workers in the UK”.
In order to tackle the problem head on, Moretube Engineering is addressing the issue in its own way by taking on apprentices and upskilling its workforce.
Davies explained: “As with many small local businesses wishing to become part of the energy sector supply chain, we have encountered a number of common barriers. Foremost of these is keeping our team focused on an uncertain future. We have addressed this in two ways: first by participating in the Fit for Nuclear [F4N] programme, which is meant to help us measure our current operations against the standards required by the nuclear industry; and second by training and upskilling our workforce to meet these higher standards.
“With the lack of skills constantly plaguing the sector, we have recently taken on apprentices and they are already showing potential. They attend engineering college on day release, developing their basic level of generic skills. In our workshops, they work within our skilled and experienced team learning our specialism and culture.”
By immersing them in the company culture of attention to detail and delivering on its promises, Davies believes that Moretube Engineering can nurture apprentices and pass on specialist skills to benefit the next generation and ensure they are armed to propel the UK to a brighter future.
“Our culture is founded on paying careful attention to detail and having the capacity to deliver. Both are achieved by equipping the team with the tools for the job and with the confidence to work with multiple applications in a variety of materials. By nurturing apprentices, we hope to pass on our culture and ever-evolving specialism to benefit successive generations.”