Wales advances its plans for small nuclear plants

UK energy updates

The Welsh government has chosen a leading UK civil nuclear executive to resurrect Trawsfynydd, the site of one of Britain’s first atomic energy plants, using a new breed of small reactors, according to people briefed on the appointment.

The Cardiff administration has recruited Mike Tynan, a former head of UK operations at US nuclear engineering group Westinghouse, to a new publicly-owned development company charged with exploiting the “economic benefits” of small-scale reactors at Trawsfynydd in north Wales.

Developers of so-called small modular reactors including Rolls-Royce say they can be built in factories and assembled on site, thereby reducing the costs and complexities associated with large-scale nuclear energy plants such as the 3.2 gigawatt Hinkley Point C power station currently under construction in Somerset, which is running well over budget.

The small scale reactors have been identified by both Welsh ministers and the UK government as a potentially important technology to help meet Britain’s 2050 net zero emissions target, as well as creating new engineering and manufacturing jobs.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson last year pledged £215m of public funds to develop a British small modular reactor design as part of his blueprint for a “green industrial revolution”.

Rolls-Royce, which is spearheading a consortium that is racing to become the first developer to secure UK regulatory approval for its small modular reactor design, said last year there was a “pretty high probability” Trawsfynydd could house the first plant in Britain.

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The UK engineering company believes at least 16 small modular reactors could be installed at existing and former nuclear sites in the UK. It is aiming to complete its first 470 megawatt plant by the early 2030s.

The Welsh government announced last year it would create a nuclear development company called Cwmni Egino to re-establish Trawsfynydd as an important location for nuclear energy, as well as to explore installing a medical research reactor to provide medical radioisotopes for Wales, the UK and Europe.

Trawsfynydd generated electricity from 1965 to 1991 and was one of 10 early nuclear power stations in Britain dubbed Magnox plants owing to the magnesium alloy that covered the fuel rods inside their reactors.

Tynan, who is also the former chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which provides independent advice to UK ministers, has been appointed as interim chief executive of Cwmni Egino to place the newly-incorporated company on a “firm footing”, according to people familiar with the appointment.

The Welsh government said it was “in the process of finalising arrangements relating to this position”.

It added that installing small modular reactors and a medical research reactor at Trawsfynydd would provide a “significant economic opportunity for north west Wales that is firmly wedded to our response to the climate emergency”. Tynan could not be reached for comment.

Tom Samson, chief executive of the Rolls-Royce-led consortium, told the Financial Times that “Wales in particular holds significant potential” for small modular reactors and named as locations both Trawsfynydd and Anglesey, where Japan’s Hitachi had planned to build a large scale plant before pulling out in 2019 over cost concerns.

‘We continue to speak to stakeholders at both locations,” added Samson.

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