Tuesday, April 3, 2012


As we all know from the excellent coverage in the Daily Post during the last few days, the business community in North Wales remains shell-shocked at the decision by the German energy companies RWE npower and E-ON to pull out of plans to build an £8 billion new nuclear reactor at Wylfa B in Anglesey.

With the county consistently rated as one of the poorest areas in the UK, the development was seen as the panacea for its lack of economic opportunities, with experts estimating that it had the potential to contribute over £2 billion to the economy over the next fifteen years, creating 5,000 construction jobs and 800 direct jobs at the new power station.

More importantly, it would have given Wales, and Anglesey, the opportunity to become a major centre of expertise in the sector through the creation of value added projects around the new development. For example, helping to create an energy technology park around the power station and ensuring that the skilled workforce needed for its construction are sourced locally were just two simple examples of how the project could have created additional benefit for the Anglesey economy. It would have also enabled Bangor University to become an international centre of research and development excellence in this sector.

But despite the bad news, local and national politicians remain convinced that new investors can be attracted to the site. There does not seem to be any specific technical or economic rationale for withdrawal with insiders suggesting that political pressure may have been the main factor in the decision to pull out of not only plans for Wylfa, but other nuclear developments in the UK. In fact, with the German government recently stating that it would abandon any new nuclear power plants within its own borders, many have been expecting that country’s energy companies to pull out of any new developments in the nuclear industry.

The quality of the project itself was emphasised by the chief executive of RWE npower, who went on record to make the point that not only was Wales one of the "most attractive" new nuclear sites across Europe but that any new investor would be able to build on the work that the current consortium had put together during the last three years.

Another positive development from this story is that both the Welsh Government and the UK Government have now co-operated closely to try and deal with this issue. After recent wranglings between Cardiff Bay and Westminster, they have come together to save a project that could create thousands of jobs within an economic blackspot.

Of course, this was not always the case and during the last administration, there was a difference of opinion between the Economic Development Minister, who supported Wylfa B, and the Environment Minister who was diametrically opposed and even called for a public inquiry into any new nuclear facilities in Wales. Certainly, such confusion did not help engender a coherent governmental approach to the development.

Indeed, Carwyn Jones’ positive comments last week on the project were to be welcomed, as was the news that he had already held urgent talks with the UK energy secretary to try and secure new investors for the project. Therefore, perhaps the one silver lining in the Wylfa B story from last week is that we may see greater co-operation between the two governments and a more cohesive and joined up “Team Wales’ approach that sees any political differences put aside in favour of economic imperatives. Certainly, with the prosperity of the Welsh economy continuing to fall relative to many other parts of Europe, such co-operation is vital for the future of our nation.

Daily Post column April 2nd 2012.