Wales politics

Hinkley Point nuclear plant offers 'clear opportunities'

Artist's impression of Hinkley Point C plant Image copyright PA
Image caption Andrew RT Davies hailed one of the UK's biggest construction projects in 70 years

Welsh politicians say a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset will be good for the economy.

The UK government gave approval after imposing "significant new safeguards" to protect national security.

Welsh Economy Secretary Ken Skates called it "excellent news", saying the plant should use steel from Port Talbot and other producers in Wales.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said the plant would play a part in "turbo-charging" the steel industry.

Earlier in September, Neath-based Express Reinforcements was named as the preferred bidder for a 200,000-tonne order of steel for Hinkley Point worth about £100m.

In July, incoming Prime Minister Theresa May announced a delay in approval for the £18bn project pending a review.

It focused on concerns about the high cost of energy from the proposed plant and the security implications of Chinese involvement alongside the French energy firm EDF.

'Huge plus'

When approval was announced on Thursday, Mr Skates welcomed the decision as "excellent news for the nuclear sector across the UK" providing a "much needed boost to the supply chain".

"The decision could also play an important part in supporting our steel industry in the UK, a major part of which is located here in Wales," he said.

"I am calling on the UK government to make sure it is supplied by steel from Port Talbot and our other steel producers here in Wales, and that opportunities for the wider UK supply chain are maximised.

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Media captionCarwyn Jones: 'We are looking at businesses in Wales to act as suppliers and contractors potentially for Hinkley'

First Minister Carwyn Jones said a range of businesses could benefit from the announcement.

"We are looking at businesses in Wales to act as suppliers and contractors potentially for Hinkley and that's something we want to explore."

Mr Davies hailed the decision as a "huge plus for the UK and for Wales".

"Given the proximity of the Somerset site to Wales, there are clear opportunities here for employment and businesses, with up to 26,000 jobs and apprenticeships being created," he said.

"We're already aware of big orders for steel emanating from this project, and we are hopeful that Hinkley will play its part in turbocharging Wales' steel economy.

"Now is the time for our highly skilled workforce to seize on the opportunity to be part of one of the biggest construction projects in 70 years."

UK Labour leadership contender and Pontypridd MP Owen Smith welcomed the go-ahead but criticised the UK government's delay in giving approval.

"The Tories' dithering over this decision has created jobs uncertainty and been deeply damaging to Britain's reputation as a country in which to invest.

"A better handled process may well have delivered a fairer price for the taxpayer.

"Britain needs a robust and credible industrial strategy that creates jobs, growth and the green economy of the future."

Analysis by Sarah Dickins, BBC Wales economics correspondent

Image caption Celsa's recycled steel is in line for use in the reinforced concrete for the nuclear project

The challenge for Wales is to grab the opportunities that lie with this huge 10-year investment.

But if Wales can win business building the UK's first nuclear power plant in 20 years it could help the Welsh economy for the long term.

EDF Energy has a reputation for its commitment to local firms. Next to those companies from the south west of England, south Wales is next in line to benefit - and it has the skills.

Already some work is in the pipeline, with Celsa in Cardiff. It makes recycled steel from scrap, which helps the carbon footprint of the project.

Steel from here will go to Express Reinforcements in Neath, which is already involved in the CrossRail project in London, and will be supplying Hinkley C.

But Helen Kane, chairwoman of Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Wales, says the Welsh Government must make sure Wales has enough of the right skills to embrace the "massive opportunities" of Hinkley.

"It will take up a huge resource but also give us new skills and I've heard of some very specialist skills, professionally and in the trades - and we'll learn lots from that," she said.

"We've been gearing up but we also have a skills gap of mammoth proportions.

"We lost 400,000 in construction in the last recession and they haven't come back and we need to move our skills up a few gears and we need help from the Welsh Government."

On the ground there is a real fear that the best workers will be tempted away to work on Hinkley C and that will damage smaller firms.

What is undeniable is that the Hinkley C project will have a clear impact on the economy of south Wales in a number of ways.

But with a new nuclear plant planned for Wyfla on Anglesey, the expertise learnt working on Hinkley could help all of Wales in the long term.

Horizon, the firm planning to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa, Anglesey, said approval for Hinkley was "good news for the country's security of supply and clean energy needs".

Chief executive Duncan Hawthorne said: "The emphasis must now be on delivering the government's vision of a wider nuclear programme in the UK and we remain focused on continuing to make strong progress with our lead Wylfa Newydd project.

"This includes clearing our tried and tested reactor technology for deployment in the UK, consulting across north Wales on our plans and the huge economic opportunities they will deliver, and working with government on a deal that delivers at a fair and acceptable price for all."

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