The search for a nuclear plan B
- 29 March 2012
- From the section Wales politics
It was, we're told, "late last night" that Horizon Nuclear Power - made up of two German firms, RWE Npower and E.On - informed the Assembly's Environment Committee that their Director of Project Development wouldn't, after all, be turning up to give evidence this morning.
It was early this morning that the Enviornment Committee - and everyone else - found out quite why Horizon had pulled their witness. If you look at the prior written evidence, there's no hint of a u-turn on building Wylfa B but with the two firms saying that raising finance for power projects has become difficult, they've called a halt to plans to invest in Anglesey as well as Oldbury near Bristol.
E.ON talks in terms of working on "other strategic projects that will allow us to deliver earlier benefit for customers and our company, rather than the very long term and large investment new nuclear power calls for".
It was never a done deal. It's just that when you start talking in terms of a potential 5,000 construction jobs and up to a 1,000 jobs at the plant from 2020, it had all started to feel very real indeed to the people of Ynys Mon.
Horizon say they've been "very pleased to enjoy broad public and political support, in particular from the communities around our sites" If you want an idea why they got that broad support, why the promise of investment was regarded as vital by that public and those politicians, take a look at this map. You're urged to "mouseover" (a new verb on me) various parts of the UK to discover how far under (or over ...) the UK average that 'neighbourhood' is performing. Anglesey is well under the average, just about as far under the average as the map allows.
Horizon add that the level of support they've had "continues to make nuclear new build an attractive proposition in the UK.
"We have made good progress in developing our sites, in particular our lead site at Wylfa, and a strong organisation capable of delivering nuclear new build in the UK.
"We will now focus on consolidating the progress made and working with our shareholders as they investigate the opportunities for new ownership."
What this means for the UK Government's nuclear programme, take a look at Robert Peston's blog here.
What about Wales? We'll be talking to the Welsh Secretary in Cardiff later today. The Minister for Energy, she says, briefed her, though when exactly, we don't yet know. I'll update during the day as responses come in but Mrs Gillan has already said that while "obviously disappointed by this news, ... I remain convinced that Wylfa is the prime site for the next generation of nuclear power stations".
"Anglesey has nearly 50 years of experience of the nuclear industry and has developed skills that are second to none. This gives me confidence that the site at Wylfa will be attractive to other investors.
The Welsh Government shares the disappointment. There's no hiding that today's decision is "a blow". But they also share the confidence that "Anglesey remains the best option in the UK for a nuclear development. There is live and significant interest in the site, and the First Minister has asked for the full support of the UK Government as we work with Horizon to deliver this investment and secure jobs for workers at Wylfa in the future."
The interest may indeed be both 'live' and 'significant' but how long might it all take to bear fruit - if its comes to fruition at all?
The GMB union says the UK Government's energy strategy is "in tatters", adding: "We need an urgent discussion involving Government, the industry and unions about where we go from here.
"David Cameron announced a partnership in nuclear with France during a recent visit to Paris. This is nonsense. Britain is going to be a bit player in what is a growing global industry. It simply isn't good enough for Government to sit back and hope it's all going to come good".
WWF Cymru - not, as you might expect, part of that "broad public and political support" of Horizon's plans - welcome the announcement. It is, they argue, good news if the economics "doesn't stack up." Their challenge is to the Welsh Government:
"Just two weeks ago we called on the Welsh Government to do more to drive forward renewables, instead of pushing forward with its unfortunate change of policy to support nuclear power. We hope today's news will prompt Carwyn Jones to refocus his government's efforts to support clean, safe and affordable renewable energy production."
They are alone, so far, in recognising today's news as good. The overwhelming political consensus? This is bad, very bad but Anglesey remains the best option for nuclear development and that should now be shouted from the Senedd's - and from Westminster's - rooftops.