Horizon Nuclear Power has taken a key step forward in its plans to build a new nuclear power plant in the UK.

The Hitachi-owned company has applied to the Planning Inspectorate for permission to build the Wylfa Newydd plant on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales.Wylfa Newydd nuclear power plant

The application comes as UK Secretary of State for Business Greg Clark confirmed that Wylfa would be the next nuclear plant developed in the UK. There are also widespread claims that the government will provide a significant amount of the finance for the power station.

However this news has divided opinion: some see the plant as a key step forward in securing Britain’s energy future, while others see it as an enormous waste of money.

Horizon’s planning submission comprises 41,000 pages, 440 documents and over 400 drawings, specifying the power station and associated work the company wants to develop at the Wylfa Newydd site, as well as how it plans to go about it from a technical, logistical and social point of view.

Horizon has also submitted applications for a marine licence, operations combustion permit, operations water discharge permit and construction water discharge permit from Natural Resources Wales.

Duncan Hawthorne, chief executive at Horizon, said Greg Clark’s announcement “is fantastic news for Anglesey, the nuclear industry, and Horizon, as well as a clear signal of the Government’s commitment to delivering a low carbon future for the UK”.

“Building on last year’s regulatory acceptance of our tried and tested reactor technology, it shows real momentum behind the project which will bring huge benefits everywhere from Anglesey to Wales and the UK and Japan. Our focus now is to ensure we continue to deliver on our key project milestones as we move towards construction.”

It has been reported that a per megawatt-hour ‘strike price’ of £77.5 has been agreed for power from the power station for the duration of the project’s 60-year lifespan, and the plant is expected to start generating electricity by 2025. 

News of the government’s possible financial involvement in Wylfa has been welcomed by two of Britain’s unions, Prospect and the GMB.

Prospect senior deputy general-secretary Sue Ferns said: “The government’s decision to take a direct stake in the Wylfa nuclear power plant is a sensible move that needs to be adopted for wider UK energy policy decisions to allow a low-carbon infrastructure to be fully developed.

“By taking a share in this project, the costs can be lowered, work can be directed to UK companies and the UK’s skills base can be developed.” She added that in order to capitalize on this, the government must take a similar approach to other sites such as Moorside in Cumbria, which is also the site of a planned new nuclear plant.

“Rather than choosing one energy infrastructure model over another, the government must take a broad view and recognise that other projects such as the Swansea tidal lagoon also have an important role in building energy resilience and capacity and would benefit from similar funding models.

“This decision cannot be viewed as a one-off and needed to be seen as a wider deal. There are many challenges ahead: Brexit, our climate targets and the need to renew our energy infrastructure. The energy sector needs to see this latest change as the start of a new approach.”

Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary for Energy said: “We may be witnessing an outbreak of energy policy common sense that should set a new precedent for our vital energy infrastructure projects.

“The go ahead on a new, publicly funded power station at Wylfa, and the accompanying creation of thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships, means a huge boost to the economy and reliable electricity to millions of homes.

“By government taking a stake in the new power station, the price to consumers will be greatly reduced. This makes good sense all round, not just the obvious benefits to bill payers but because government is ‘the lender of last resort’ when it comes to guaranteeing the country’s energy supply and so direct public funding of the construction does away with the nonsensical pretence that this is some other country or company’s responsibility.”

He added: “If we are to address the reality of climate change – whilst keeping our country’s lights turned on, our homes heated and our economy working – then we have to face up to the fact that we need a mix of energy which combines renewable sources, like wind and solar, with the reliable base load electricity capacity that comes from zero carbon nuclear and lower carbon gas.

“That wind and solar are intermittent shouldn’t be a point of contention, quite the contrary, but a reason why baseload zero-carbon nuclear and lower carbon gas energy sources are essential for a balanced and secure low emissions future. 

Matt Rooney, Engineering Policy Adviser at the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, welcomed what he called a “step towards a firm decision on a new nuclear power station at the Wylfa Newydd site in Wales. Once built, it will provide large quantities of reliable low-carbon electricity, helping the UK meet its decarbonisation targets under the Climate Change Act.”

“Both the construction of the plant, and its operation, would provide hundreds of high-skilled engineering jobs in North Wales for decades to come. It would also bolster the long-term outlook for the nuclear manufacturing supply chain in the UK. This is especially important following the decision to leave the European Union, and the potential loss of access to the single market for nuclear good and services.

“The statement by the government that it may invest directly in electricity generation is a major development. It recognises the important role that state financing could play in reducing the cost of large-scale, low-carbon energy projects.”

However, the UK’s Solar Trade Association said the progress on Wylfa “marks a significant shift in energy policy towards explicit state investment in energy projects”.

It said this investment “will further tilt the playing field in the energy market which is already highly distorted by government interventions”. 

The association says the Wylfa talks come at a time when the utility solar industry has been “waiting more than three years for access to competitive UK clean power auctions, where it can offer power at close to wholesale price. Simultaneously, rooftop solar on warehouses and factories, an application which no longer requires government subsidy, has been stalled by crippling business rate hikes.” 

Solar Trade Association chief executive Chris Hewett said: When [other under-construction UK nuclear plant] Hinkley Point C was given the green light three years ago, we pointed out that the UK solar industry could already supply clean power at half the price.

“Since then, solar prices have fallen even further, and storage technology is commercialising rapidly.

“Today solar combined with energy storage can provide low-cost, flexible power whilst supporting a smart energy pathway the government’s own analysis shows can save consumers billions of pounds.”

And Kate Blagojevic, head of Energy at Greenpeace UK, said: “The notion that new nuclear will be good value for money is farcical when it’s so much more expensive than cleaner, safer renewable alternatives that are faster to build. The economics are so weak that private investors have refused any involvement and the government is having to bail out this disastrous project before construction has even begun. This should be a red flag to the government that it is a terrible deal.”

She claimed that Hitachi and private sector investors “are all balking at the cost” of the project, and said Japanese press were reporting that the UK has agreed to step in and support the project with loans, guarantees and billions in direct investment.

She added that Greg Clark “was decidedly coy about what has already been offered to Hitachi. He seems intent on keeping the details of the deal secret for as long as possible. He needs to do more than cherry pick the bits of the National Audit Office’s advice that he likes and conduct a full and transparent review of the strategic case for nuclear, and its financing, before signing anything. If the government insists on using our money to subsidise failure, the least they can do is explain what advantage we gain, because it won’t be affordable, reliable power.”