Virginia Crosbie is MP for Ynys Môn. Bill Cash is MP for Stone.
It turns out the winter crisis we’ve all been expecting might not be the one we turn out to have. The current chatter about natural gas prices is pushing Covid temporarily to the side and is conjuring up memories of winters’ past, namely 1978-79s Winter of Discontent. Will Britain really run out of power in the depths of winter?
The Government is delivering assurances that all will be OK on supply, despite the concerns of the head of OFGEM. Whoever’s right, it is beyond dispute that Britain is heavily reliant on foreign gas imports. That we have had to restart coal-fired power in the run up to COP26 is a worrying sign.
Nor is it just Britain in distress; our partners on the continent are also feeling the pinch. It turns out a lot of our gas eggs are in Russia’s basket.
The goings on in the gas market have focused a lot of attention on alternative energy sources, including renewable energy like wind and solar. Make no mistake, these technologies are promising but they are also clearly not the answer, at least not yet.
So, what will it take to secure our energy supply, to make it affordable, secure and reliable for the long term?
The good news is the answer exists. Moreover, it is already deployed around the world, including here in Britain. The answer is nuclear energy. Indeed, Boris Johnson recently returned from the United Nations General Assembly, where he reaffirmed this country’s commitment to nuclear energy as part of his government’s ten-point Green Plan to reach our emission reduction targets.
It will have to be more than words, however. While nuclear power currently provides approximately 20 per cent of our electricity, all but one of our existing nuclear power plants will close this decade. We need to build more facilities, and quickly.
One site that shows promise is called Wylfa, on the island of Anglesey in Wales. Many in the industry view it as the ideal site on which to build nuclear technology. It is currently owned by Hitachi but several developers, including a consortium involving Bechtel and Westinghouse, have plans to bring Wylfa online. Installing the American-owned Westinghouse’s world-leading AP1000 reactors on Anglesey would go a long way to meeting our emissions targets while also providing power across Wales. It would also improve our sovereign nuclear fuel capacity via facilities in Lancashire.
Most importantly, proceeding with the modular-based AP1000 reactors would also set Britain and Britons up to compete in the nuclear near future, where so-called advanced and small modular reactors will play a pivotal role. Gaining the experience and know-how on modular reactors now will help Britain’s workforce steal the march on others as more nations turn to nuclear to secure their energy supply.
Put differently, this goes beyond the estimated 10,000 high-paying jobs involved in developing the Wylfa site; embracing nuclear technology will position Britain favourably for thousands of more high-paying jobs in the future.
The development of nuclear power – particularly in Wales – will also go a long way to achieving the Government’s objective of ‘levelling up’ economic opportunity across the United Kingdom. Every corner of the land needs power, and local businesses and apprentices are the prime beneficiaries from large-scale builds like the one proposed for Anglesey.
Proceeding with nuclear builds would also help strengthen the transatlantic alliance at a time of significant geopolitical stress. Anglo-American cooperation on nuclear power would provide confidence to regulators as well as consumers. It would also reassure citizens disappointed with politics that important infrastructure projects can move forward and be delivered if we put our minds to it.
Today, The Welsh Affairs Select Committee has heard the case for Wylfa. One of the arguments made is for a new approach to taking such projects forward. As we heard throughout the course of the hearing, the technology and the experience to deliver exists, but a new financing model led by the Government would go a long way toward securing investment in the project. It would present a strong signal from the government and instill confidence in the private sector to proceed with such projects.
Going into COP26 with a green light on Wylfa would demonstrate the Government’s seriousness on its climate and leveling up agendas. In Wales, we are ready and eager to put our shoulders to the wheel and put thousands of Britons to work.