SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Future of nuclear power in Wales

A report published on Tuesday 26 July 2016 by the Welsh Affairs Committee - The future of nuclear power in Wales – cites Professor MacKerron and Dr Johnstone who highlight issues surrounding Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), the economics, and the highly ambitious timeline for building a new reactor at Wylfa.

On the 21st of March, Prof Gordon Mackerron and Dr Phil Johnstone gave oral evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s inquiry into nuclear power, at Portcullis House, Westminster. The Committee is holding an inquiry to explore the viability of the future of nuclear power in Wales, by examining the decommissioning of nuclear plants at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd, and the economic and environmental impact of the development of a new plant, Wylfa Newydd.

Having responded to the call for written evidence, (to be published by the Welsh Affairs Committee in due course) Prof Mackerron and Dr Johnstone were invited to give oral evidence. Alongside representatives from Greenpeace, Nuclear Industry Association, Nuclear Institute, and supporters of Nuclear energy, they gave evidence at a session examining the environmental and financial costs of nuclear power, potential alternatives to a nuclear-based energy strategy, as well as the counter-arguments for the Wylfa Newydd development and the performance of similar nuclear plants.

Key issues included the construction of an Advanced Boiled Water Reactor (ABWR) at Wylfa, decommissioning issues surrounding Wylfa and Trawsfynydd and the potential development of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) at the a Trawsfyndd site.

Prof Gordon Mackerron and Dr Phil Johnstone raised questions around licensing and the economic viability of both SMRs and the new plant at Wylfa due to uncertainties surrounding the new kinds of reactors being proposed and argued that there are substantial risks.

For example, there is very limited experience of the construction of ABWRs in the world, with reactors built in Japan facing significant problems with turbines and poor load factors. Dr Johnstone stated that a deadline for completing an ABWR at Wylfa by 2025 was ‘ambitious’ especially given potential resource challenges, and that alternative low carbon strategies should be considered.

Prof Mackerron and Dr Johnstone also highlighted that a recent report by Mott Macdonald provided evidence that the ABWR technology may only be economically viable if also used for district heating. Given the remote and sparse population of the Trawsfynydd site, there may well be preferable locations in other parts of the UK.

Committee Chair David Davies commented: "Nuclear power can be a controversial issue and in this evidence session, we’ll hear both sides of the argument. The witnesses have extensive knowledge and experience in the policy and practical effects of nuclear power. They will also provide insight into the perspectives of the broader population including business, industry and the general public."

The Committee is examining the construction of Wylfa Newydd, the economic and environmental impact of Wylfa Newydd, the decommissioning of existing nuclear power stations in Wales, the introduction of small modular reactors in Wales, and how the Welsh Government and UK Government are working together on policy in this area.

Watch the session (starts at 16.54) 



*photo by David Dixon shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license