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New Nuclear Plant at Yr Wylfa

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Post  MH Sat 3 Jan 2009 - 21:47

I'm not in favour of nuclear energy for the simple reason that Wales has the potential to produce all the electricity it needs by other means. However, the simple fact is that Wales does not have any control over power generation over 50MW, and it's clearly the UK's policy to provide a large part of the energy it needs from nuclear. We in Wales can at present do nothing to stop it.

All the indications are that a new plant is going to be built alongside the present one. And recent developments have reinforced that. However, far from this being to replace existing capacity (which is how the nuclear argument has been presented by the UK government thus far) I have been rather taken aback by the size of the new plant being proposed. In essence RWE want to more than triple the size of the current plant.

RWE have been awarded a grid allocation of 3.6GW, this is in three blocks of 1.2GW, and seems to indicate that RWE are firming up on plans for three Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, which have a capacity of about 1,150 MW each. They already have rights to buy farmland next to the current site on which to build them.

Bloomberg, 30 Dec 2008
Independent, 30 Dec 2008
BBC, 30 Dec 2008

How much electricity is this? Well, most electricity companies like to present things in terms of "numbers of homes" which is rather vague, but gives the public some sort of handle on the numbers involved. In this case it is enough for "more than 5 million homes", as there are probably only about 1.3m homes in Wales, they're talking about roughly four times the domestic electricity Wales needs.

I prefer to deal in more precise figures. 3.6GW of installed capacity would produce 31,577,600 MWh at full output, but the capacity factor of the plant would probably be 75%, resulting in 23,668,200 MWh or just over 23TWh per year. The current plant at Yr Wylfa produces about 7TWh per year.

Obviously we use electricity for more than homes, we need it for commercial premises, industry and transport as well. Domestic use accounts for only a third of Wales' consumption. Wales' electricity consumption is about 19TWh per year, so this one site on its own will produce far more electricity than the whole of Wales needs.

But the complicating factor is that there is no grid interconnexion between north and south Wales. Only a quarter of the population live in the north. In other words at least 75% of what the new Wylfa B will produce will be exported, and even more if we take into account all the other generating capacity in north Wales, such as hydro, wind, and the large gas fired station at Connah's Quay. Be in no doubt that this power station is much more to supply England's electricity needs than Wales'.

Another thing that Bloomberg reported was the date. The power is set to start coming online from 2020. The present plant is due to close in 2010, and might well limp on for a couple of years or so, but certainly not for an extra ten.

There might still be time to stop this, and the key to doing so is to get decision making power for generating plant transfered from Westminster to the Senedd. The UK government cannot impose their energy requirements on Scotland, as it is an area of devolved responsibility. I'm not saying that the Senedd would necessarily vote this down, but they would certainly look at things from the point of view of what is best for Wales, rather than what is best for England.

As for jobs, decommissioning the existing plant at the end of its life and making it safe will be plenty of work for the next generation.

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Post  Mond y fi Tue 6 Jan 2009 - 17:03

This may sound rather obvious, but if one nuclear power station can supply all the power we need, isn't that a good thing?

We could get rid of the dirty coal power stations, maybe keep a few gas power stations for back up, and forget about wind turbines.

I understand that North and South Wales are not connected to each other on the National Grid. But if we sort that out then South Wales could benefit too. Is nuclear really so bad?
Mond y fi
Mond y fi

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Post  MH Thu 8 Jan 2009 - 1:05

Hi, Mond y fi. I guess it all hinges on the word "so" in so bad. The danger in a discussion about nuclear and renewables is that views get polarized into dogmatic black and white rather than real life shades of grey.

Nuclear is not so bad. Given the range of options open to us for generating electricity, it is very much better than coal, and better than gas, but not as good as renewables ... at least from a CO2 point of view. But from the point of view of flexibility, cost and the ability to eventually decommission it at the end of its useful life, it is definitely bottom of the list. So if you regard reducing CO2 emissions as a top priority, nuclear becomes a slightly more attractive option than it otherwise would be.

I do not believe that nuclear is "unsafe". It is an established technology that does have very high risks, but we have learned how to contain and manage those risks. Nothing is 100% safe, but we (and this is a matter of judgement) have probably brought the risk down to an acceptable level.

For me it is a matter of cost and legacy. First, nuclear costs a lot of money and second we are no closer to finding a solution to the problem getting rid of dangerous nuclear waste. It seems foolish to embark on building a new generation of nuclear plants until we've worked out an answer. So, if nuclear is used, my opinion is that it should only be used as a last resort. If we can generate our electricity by other means, we should.


I think it's illuminating to see what our near neighbours think about it. Both Ireland and Scotland have chosen a non-nuclear route. And we in Wales can do the same. That's simply because of our geography. We are not densely populated countries, therefore we have enough natural resources from which to generate electricity relative to our size of population.

The difference for England is that it is very much more densely populated, and therefore has a harder struggle to generate enough electricity from renewables. The government's plans for new nuclear capacity are driven by England's power needs rather than ours.

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Post  Draig32 Fri 9 Jan 2009 - 4:28

Have to admit I was a bit taken aback by the sheer scale of what RWE are proposing too. Whether it actually comes off is another matter, as my understanding is that British Energy and EDF were the original contenders for a proposed new plant on the site. It all seems a little speculative at the moment. Grid connection suggests a slightly more definite commitment, but RWE have all sorts of projects on the go in Wales at the moment.

The sheer amount of energy projects proposed in Wales at the moment is enormous. We have an energy crisis in the UK and there is a crisis in the planning system. It seems that one way for the UK government to get around long, protracted appeals and judicial reviews is to "outsource" new capacity to parts of the UK more willing to accept it. i.e. Wales. A willing, pliant administration in Cardiff, eager to attract new "investment" helps.

As MH points out devolution of power consents over 50mw is the key. The package on offer in the One Wales Agreement (assuming it happens) won't provide it, so I can't see it happening before 2011. There are disparate groups all over Wales who are struggling to come to grips with all these big energy projects, but they have no cohesion. Until people start getting together and start articulating concrete demands the issue will barely even register on the wider public consciousness.

Personally I don't think that things will come to a head until one of two things happens;

1) There is a critical mass of affected groups and they begin to realise that they have common ground. Devolution of power consents provides part of that common ground.

2) There is a major accident. Safety standards are being compromised in the name of political expediency and sooner or later someone's going to cop it. An accident will force the issue onto the public consciousness and catalyse a debate. It won't be pretty, but unfortunately public complacency plays a role.

Anyway, I'm wandering off topic. I don't have a major issue with Nuclear, and could see the reasoning behind a new reactor at Wylfa. Three new reactors, on the other hand, makes it pretty obvious that Wales' electricity needs has little to do with it, and should be opposed. It's nothing more than energy colonialism. Until anti-nuclear campaigners on Mon make common cause with other groups though, they will be isolated and outflanked by supportive politicians.


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