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Civil Nuclear Road Map and Wylfa

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2024

[Relevant documents: Third Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee of Session 2022-23, Nuclear energy in Wales, HC 240, and the Government response, HC 1656.]

4 pm

I will call Virginia Crosbie to move the motion, and I will then call the Minister to respond. As is the convention for 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the civil nuclear roadmap and Wylfa.

It is an absolute privilege to speak in this debate on the civil nuclear road map and Wylfa. I secured this debate to highlight the simple truth that large-scale nuclear development at Wylfa in my constituency of Ynys Môn would be a transformational opportunity for the people I represent. It would be the largest inward investment in the history of Wales, and potentially the greatest single action the UK could take in the fight against climate change and in the race for energy security.

I warmly welcome the civil nuclear road map that the UK Government published recently, in which they committed to exploring a third gigawatt-scale project after Sizewell C, and to developing further large-scale nuclear in parallel with small module reactors. I urge the Government to take that commitment further by naming Wylfa as the site for such a large-scale project, and to move forward at speed in announcing a partner to deliver that project in Ynys Môn. I am in no doubt, and neither is the nuclear industry, that Wylfa is the best site in the UK—and indeed all of Europe—for new large-scale nuclear.

I was recently visited by a delegation from Korea. That country has 24 GW of nuclear capacity, and the delegation said that Wylfa was a better site for new nuclear then any site they have. Why is that? Well, we have an existing strong connection to the national grid, we have solid bedrock—ideal for pouring the foundations of a nuclear power station—and we have plentiful cooling water that is deep, cold and close, which is exactly what the engineers need. We also have a site that has been substantially cleared and prepared for large-scale construction by Horizon Nuclear Power, under Hitachi. The industry opinion is unanimous: a third large-scale project must be at Wylfa, and I hope the Government will listen to that advice. Will the Minister commit today, or in the coming weeks, to naming Wylfa as the site for a further large-scale project?

There is one more factor that makes Wylfa ideal for new nuclear, and that is the strong support of the local community. Wylfa means hope—the community remembers what the island was like when the original Wylfa was up and running. To them, nuclear means jobs, investment and opportunity for them, their children, and their Welsh language—for all the young people who otherwise leave the island to find good work.

I am very impressed by the hon. Lady’s bringing forward this debate. From the beginning, she has been very assiduous in the House on this issue. My knowledge of her dates from her first debate in this House, which I think had a similar focus and title. I envy her for having a nuclear site where she wants it. We wish to have the same in Northern Ireland, but it is not possible. Does the hon. Lady agree that jobs should be created right across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that we should all benefit from manufacturing, jobs and apprenticeships?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He is absolutely correct. This is a UK-wide endeavour, and it means jobs not only on Anglesey but across north Wales and the whole of the UK. If we do not work together on this, we cannot work to deliver net zero by 2050.

The support of my constituents is indispensable, but it cannot be taken for granted. They have had their hopes raised and dashed again and again. They have endured so much heartbreak and disappointment as successive attempts to get the project off the ground have failed. The civil nuclear road map will have raised their hopes one more time, and I beg the Minister and the Government to do everything they can to ensure that those hopes at last begin to be fulfilled. What can the Minister do to fulfil them? As I have said, we can start by naming Wylfa as the site for a further large-scale project. We should also get the land off Hitachi, and the intellectual property from the Horizon project and into the hands of Great British Nuclear. I will put it simply: the land is designated for new nuclear development. If Hitachi will not use it, it should lose it.

I urge the Minister and the Government to think creatively about what we can do. As I understand it, EDF in the last year has paid £200 million from its nuclear fleet to the Government through the electricity windfall tax. Urenco usually pays an annual dividend to the Government of around £100 million from its uranium enrichment activities. Could that money not be used to buy out Hitachi, get the Horizon intellectual property and get on with the project at Wylfa?

As the Minister will know, I met, invited and personally showed around the leading contenders for a large-scale project at Wylfa: Westinghouse, KEPCO and hopefully EDF. All have said that the work Horizon has done to prepare the site and design a plant would cut the deployment time for a large-scale project at the site. We know that time is money, so getting the land and intellectual property into UK ownership is critical. The next thing is to design and start a process this year to pick up one of those prospective partners to execute a project at Wylfa in conjunction with Great British Nuclear. That can and should be done very quickly.

Westinghouse, KEPCO and EDF are all very well known internationally. They all have large-scale designs in commercial operation that the Government and our regulators can visit. The companies’ records are out there for people to see and scrutinise. Indeed, our friends in Poland have just gone through an extensive process to choose from those three for their first large-scale plant. The Czech Republic has done the same and the Dutch have started the same process. Can the Minister therefore set out how he and the Government can work with our allies?

My hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for Wylfa is absolutely infectious, although there may be a little bit of competition for a gigawatt power station from Oldbury or Berkeley. That aside, through my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to get on with the nuclear road map, because come 2030, with the demise of the advanced gas-cooled reactors, we will have a dip in nuclear power. Will he particularly consider that we might be able to get small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors online quicker than a new gigawatt power station?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his excellent and timely intervention. We produce 6 GW of electricity from nuclear, and all but one of our nuclear reactors are going offline in the next decade. If we are to achieve 24 GW of electricity from nuclear by 2050, we need gigawatts, we need SMRs and AMRs, and we need to all work together to deliver to that timetable.

Can the Minister set out how he and the Government can work with our allies to get the advice and information needed to accelerate our process? We can start out with a pretty clear idea of what we want from any tendering process: a partner to lead construction of a multi-reactor, large-scale plant at Wylfa as quickly, cheaply and reliably as possible.

I really believe that the work can and should start immediately, and that it does not need to wait for a final investment decision on Sizewell C. FID on Sizewell C is vital, and I hope that that investment can be achieved as quickly and smoothly as possible. It is essential for the future of nuclear in the UK, and it is essential that we invest now in the skills needed. However, that is a different kind of work, involving different people in Government, from the task of selecting a partner for our next large-scale project.

I do not want to hide from the last point. The UK Government should be preparing to take an equity stake—at least 20% or 25%—in a project such as Wylfa. That investment would be worth several billion pounds over construction, but it would be excellent value for money. I am confident that we will get equity investment for that from our potential large-scale partners, and that could give other private sector investors the confidence to invest. Critically, the investment would give the local community the confidence that its hopes will not be dashed again, and that the UK Government—unlike the Welsh Government in Cardiff, who have cancelled plans for a third bridge—are backing the people of north-west Wales.

Think about what we would secure. We would secure billions of pounds of investment in Anglesey, north Wales and the whole Welsh supply chain. Hinkley C has already benefited the south-west by more than £5 billion to date, and a project at Wylfa would be on a similar scale. We would secure 9,000 jobs, probably more on site during construction and tens of thousands more in the supply chain. Those will be well-paid, skilled jobs that would bring people back to Ynys Môn to stay and to settle: well-paid and skilled jobs so people could build families and preserve the Welsh heritage and language, which are at the heart of the island’s identity. We would generate more clean, reliable, sovereign power for all of Wales, which is worth about £2 billion in today’s money, for 80 years. That is with two reactors, but the site can fit four, so we could do twice as much. We would sustain nearly 1,000 jobs in operations on that site for four generations, which would bring tens of millions of pounds directly into the local economy for the rest of this century and beyond. We would provide a base of employment and demand to help other businesses on our energy island to thrive.

Wylfa is the cheapest option in the medium and long term. The expert modelling and the Government’s modelling show that the cheapest electricity system has 24 GW and perhaps more in it. We know very well and very painfully from the last two or three years that if we do not invest in nuclear and our energy supply is insecure, everything is more expensive and our economy is exposed to the shocks and whims of forces beyond our control.

Finally, investing in large-scale nuclear at Wylfa is about Ynys Môn again having control of its future. It is about our community providing opportunities for families and young people to stay and grow, and preserving its unique character. It is about the UK having control of its energy security and its net zero future. Only nuclear provides the jobs and the clean, reliable, proven British power all in one package, and Wylfa is the best place to get it done. Diolch yn fawr.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie)—she is, indeed, a friend—on securing this incredibly important debate. It is important not just for her constituency, which she champions unrelentingly on every possible occasion, as indeed she does the nuclear industry, but for the future direction of travel for the nuclear industry and civil nuclear in this country.

My hon. Friend has a formidable track record of championing the case for a future nuclear project at Wylfa, both as chair of the nuclear delivery group and through her membership of the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill Committee. She has hosted numerous visits to the site for industry and Government representatives, including Katy Huff, whom I met in Dubai at COP28. She is the assistant secretary for the US Office of Nuclear Energy, and she was waxing lyrical about her visit to the site. She described her site tour with my hon. Friend as a must for anyone visiting Wales.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss our nuclear plans and Wylfa in more detail today. I reiterate the Government’s determination to ensure that nuclear plays a central role in our future energy mix. As part of a massive investment in home-produced clean energy, nuclear will offer the reliable and resilient power we need to reach net zero by 2050 and strengthen our energy security so that we are never again dependent on the likes of Vladimir Putin for our energy. That is why, just last week, we announced the biggest expansion of UK nuclear power for 70 years—I confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) that we are indeed getting on with it. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn and other Members for the support they have offered to that programme. We will build up to 24 GW of nuclear power by 2050, which will quadruple our current capacity and allow us to meet up to a quarter of projected electricity demand.

The civil nuclear road map sets out how we will get there, including our intention to explore a further gigawatt-scale project after Sizewell C and plans to roll out advanced and small modular reactors, which are part of our commitment to making investment decisions on 3 to 7 GW every five years between 2030 and 2044. The road map also sets out the comprehensive policies for growth across the nuclear lifecycle, including a geological disposal facility, for which work is already underway to find a suitable location.

Alongside the road map, we have launched two consultations: one on a new approach to siting new nuclear power generation and another on alternative routes to market for new nuclear projects that do not need Government support. Together, those areas of work will give the industry and investors the confidence they need to deliver at speed the projects we need. That is crucial, because this Government is committed to ensuring that the UK is one of the best places in the world to invest in civil nuclear. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is not in his place any more, but he pointed out that the work and the jobs that can be created in the supply chain across the entirety of the United Kingdom will mean that the benefits of new nuclear can be delivered even in places where new nuclear projects will not be built, including Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech in support of nuclear but, as he knows, the Public Accounts Committee visited Sellafield the other day. Sellafield’s whole operation is predicated on the eventual building of this geological disposal site, but the consultation has been very slow. Can my hon. Friend do anything to speed up that consultation?

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. I am convinced that our approach to selecting sites for a geological disposal facility is right for the country. I hear my hon. Friend’s views and share his frustration with the speed of consultations when the Government are running them. However, we need to ensure that we select the best site and that that site will be sustainable, have public support and be suitable for delivering this second-in-the-world geological disposal facility, which is what it will be once it is delivered.

I put on record my support to the officials who are running the consultation. It is not an easy consultation, and what they are embarking on is the first of its kind in this country. We are learning a lot from the Finnish example. They have just received the first payload to put into what they have described as their “hole in the ground”—their geological disposal facility. Nevertheless, I hear my hon. Friend and will take his views back to the Department to see what might be done to speed up the process and ensure that we can get this facility built in the United Kingdom as quickly and as safely as possible, which will be to the benefit of us all.

We first developed commercial nuclear power in this country 70 years ago. Since then, our decades of nuclear experience have provided a legacy of skilled workers and world-leading academic institutions as well as expertise in the whole nuclear lifecycle, from fuel production to decommissioning and radioactive waste management.

We are already speeding up our nuclear expansion. Hinkley Point C, Britain’s first nuclear reactor in a generation is being built, and we are also making rapid progress on Sizewell C. Just last week, I was happy to move the development consent order and hold the spade that will cut the first turf on the Sizewell C site in the next few weeks. Together, those two plants will generate enough zero-carbon power for 12 million homes, reducing our reliance on imported energy and supporting the shift to net zero. At the same time, our aim to announce the outcome of Great British Nuclear’s SMR technology selection competition this year will make it the fastest competition of its kind in the world. And so I reiterate: we are getting on with it.

With regards to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn made about engaging with our international partners, I got off a call with my counterpart in the Government of the Czech Republic just a few hours ago, and I am engaging with counterparts across the world who are looking at what we are doing on our SMR down selection and our wider nuclear road map with envy. They are looking to copy, to the extent they can, the processes that we are undertaking in this country, so that they too can build their civil nuclear capacity, generate enough nuclear power to be energy-independent and reach their net zero objectives, which, of course, is good for the entire world.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn set out, Wales has a crucial and pivotal role to play in our future nuclear programme. That is not only because of its long and proud history of nuclear skills and expertise, but its growing interest in building on that rich history and its recognition that nuclear development could have a major economic impact across north Wales in particular.

We know that nuclear developments can have a profound impact on a region’s economic prospects, ensuring that communities directly benefit from investment by delivering high-paid and secure jobs in many places where they are in desperately short supply. As such, we have a strong relationship with the Welsh Government and local communities. For example, the Anglesey energy island forum, co-chaired by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, has supported a positive and constructive dialogue that brings the different levels of government together. There is particularly strong interest in and support for nuclear power at the Wylfa site in north Wales. The Prime Minister himself has said that Wylfa is a strong site for new nuclear. Although he stressed that no decisions have been made on individual sites, he said that it remains a strong and good candidate—one of several sites that could host nuclear projects in the future.

I will finish by focusing on the crucial point: after several decades of decline, the UK’s nuclear industry is reawakening, and we are determined to harness our unique strengths and become a leading nuclear energy nation once again. The roadmap that we published just two weeks ago will help us get there by providing direction for future decisions and strengthening ties with those who know the industry best—our nuclear workers and industry leaders across the UK, including in Wales and at Wylfa. Crucially, it will allow us to explore all the options and make sure that we spark a nuclear revival that benefits the entirety of the UK, including Wales. I look forward to continuing to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn as our plans progress in the coming months.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.