Time to act for a new nuclear horizon
Prospect has long argued that nuclear power is an essential part of the energy mix if we are to achieve the twin aims of security of supply and low carbon energy generation within the UK. As the union for professionals employed across the energy sector, we see the construction of a new fleet of nuclear power stations as an opportunity to meet the challenges of low carbon energy generation capacity while providing a massive boost to the economy.
A new fleet would provide thousands of high-value, highly skilled jobs both within the construction industry and throughout the manufacture and supply chains, as well as for operating staff at sites across the country tasked with running the new plants for the next 60 to 70 years. It would help develop an employment sector with the expertise and ingenuity needed in any shift toward new low-carbon generation, allowing the acquisition of skills that could steer new build in other countries.
News, therefore, that the two German companies behind Horizon Nuclear Power plan to withdraw from projects to build new plants at Wylfa, North Wales – an £8bn project due to start at the end of 2012 – and Oldbury, South Gloucestershire, came as a blow.
While the decision by RWE and E.ON was based on pressures elsewhere in their businesses rather than any doubts to the fundamental economics of building in the UK, the move casts a shadow not only over the two sites involved but potentially the UK’s wider energy policy.
Certainly at local level it has worrying implications for Horizon’s 120 highly-skilled employees who now face an uncertain future.
But nationally, at a time when we face the closure of several large coal-fired power stations between now and the end of 2015 and the country’s existing nuclear fleet is being wound down, the Horizon venture was to be a major contributor towards the goal of a new fleet of nuclear stations generating the energy of the future.
The temptation to plug the gap with gas-powered plants would, given the dwindling North Sea gas production, leave the country reliant of foreign supplies that are vulnerable to disruption.
All these factors underscore why it is imperative that we do not lose an opportunity to put in place infrastructure for the long-term needs of the country. Wylfa is a prime site for the next generation of nuclear power and Anglesey has nearly 50 years of experience of the nuclear industry – features that will surely be attractive to other investors.
But measures must be put in place to attract new interest. The government needs to provide the policy basis for stable investment conditions for all technologies, but in particularly nuclear new build given the long term nature and scale of investment required. Any delay to the energy market reform will create uncertainty among international companies looking for more hospitable investment climates abroad.
With that aim Prospect is seeking urgent meetings with energy and business ministers as well as working with community groups to build a broad coalition of support to get the necessary backing at local and national level.