Welsh Government at odds with Westminster over nuclear energy

There was a story in Golwg360 on Tuesday which was eventually picked up by the Western Mail today. The Western Mail's version focuses on Jane Davidson's call for a public inquiry into proposals for a new nuclear power station in Ynys Môn.

     

     Gwrthwynebwyr ail Wylfa'n hawlio buddugoliaeth
     Jane Davidson calls for public inquiry into nuclear power

However that is only one element in the story. The issue is about much more than whether there should be a public inquiry or not ... as if it were just a question of going through all the right procedures. The focus of Golwg's story was much more revealing. This part of what it said:
 

Mae gwrthwynebwyr ail atomfa yn yr Wylfa yn Ynys Môn yn hawlio buddugoliaeth ar ôl i Weinidog Amgylchedd Cymru ddweud nad oes angen pwerdai niwclear newydd yng Nghymru ...

Yn ôl Jane Davidson, roedd modd i Gymru gynhyrchu digon o drydan o ffynonellau eraill heb droi at niwclear.
 

Opponents of a second atomic power station at Yr Wylfa on Ynys Môn are claiming victory after the Welsh Environment Minister said there was no need for new nuclear power stations in Wales ...

According to Jane Davidson, Wales was able to produce enough electricity from other sources without turning to nuclear.

So far as I am aware, this is the first time the Welsh Government has made a definitive statement on the need for nuclear energy in Wales. So I fully agree with Dr Clowes that this development is particularly important.

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For those of you who don't know my position on the issue, I am against nuclear power in Wales. However I have never based my argument on safety, because nuclear is relatively safe enough provided that large sums of money are spent on making and keeping it safe. But that does make cost an issue, not only for the expected life operating life of nuclear stations, but long into the future.

For me the argument is much simpler. The point I have always stressed is that Wales does not need nuclear power. But I accept that it might be different for other countries, not least England. I think that there might well be circumstances in which nuclear power is a lesser evil compared with doing nothing to slow the rate of climate change.

It is primarily a matter of population density. Countries like Wales, Scotland and Ireland have far greater renewable energy resources relative to the size of their population than England ... therefore it is possible for our three countries to meet CO2 emissions targets without resorting to nuclear. We in Wales can in fact do better, because we are blessed with a share of huge tidal energy resources.

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So it is not a matter of ability to generate electricity, instead it simply boils down to politics. Both Ireland and Scotland have made the political decision to refuse any new nuclear development. In Wales the situation is different because any energy project over 50MW is not devolved. However there is a remarkable unanimity of agreement between three parties in Wales on the issue ... which was reflected in the All Wales Accord in 2007 (which would have formed the basis of the Rainbow coalition between Plaid, the Tories and LibDems) that contained the policy goal that all electricity in Wales would be produced from renewable sources.

Obviously that did not get reflected in the One Wales Agreement, because at the time Labour's policy was identical to that of Labour in London. That is why this statement from a Labour minister is so groundbreaking.

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Of course the big question is whether it will make any difference. As things stand, the decision is not ours to make, it is Westminster's. The cynical part of me wondered if Jane Davidson was just saying she wants a public inquiry to look good, knowing that she will be over-ruled anyway. But if that were the case, why would she need to go further and say that Wales does not need nuclear?

So I'm inclined to think that this is not only a genuine statement on her part, but a courageous one too.

The worst thing we can do is simply ignore such boldness. Yes, we most certainly do need a public inquiry, but not for it to be, in the words of Lord Hunt, a "regulatory justification process" ... as if the whole thing were a foregone conclusion.

The bottom line is that at least 75% of the electricity the proposed new nuclear station at Yr Wylfa will produce will be for export to England. Wales is a net exporter of electricity, and is set to export even more when Severnpower and Pembroke come on line.

If England decides it needs nuclear power, that is of course England's decision to make ... but it should build those nuclear stations in England, not Wales. What happens in Wales should be for the Welsh Government to decide.

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5 comments:

Lyndon said...

OK, I'll admit that from a purely energy supply viewpoint be probably don't need Wylfa B, although without it and with Aberthaw possibly on its last legs we will be worryingly dependent on gas imports for our electricity.

More to the point, with the imminent closure of Anglesey Aluminium, Ynys Mon has become an economic disaster area. It is already quite possibly the poorest region in Western Europe, this could take it down to Balkan levels of poverty.

A major private sector company wants to invest billions of pounds on the island, creating hundreds of well paid jobs. Are we really going to tell them to get lost?

Draig said...

This is nothing new. Andrew Davies went on the public record a few years ago and said he was opposed to Nuclear Power in Wales. There is a consistent thread here.

As far a Westminster is concerned, Wales has been earmarked for gas generation, not nuclear in any case. So Labour in the Assembly can jump up and down all they like, knowing full well that Nuclear in Wales is largely a red herring.

Anonymous said...

the most important point you make here is the reference to our population density. Were Wales to be independent it's population densitity will become a crucial advantage - from food consumption to water consumption to energy. We will easilty be able to export all three to other states from England to the continent. It's the biggest determinant in the viability of an independent Welsh state in an interdependent world. It gives us a great advantage.

In terms of nuclear power - I've no great thoughts one way or another - but the closure of Wylfa will have a massive effect on Ynys Mon which is already becoming a retirement home for UKIP-voting English people who just want 'peace and quiet' and as little from 'the Welsh' as possible.

Anonymous said...

"Wales does not need nuclear power".

You will not be saying that when climate change removes half of the Welsh coastline and large chunks of Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire, not to mention most of the Gower, disappear under water.

But it will be too late to do anything about it then.

MH said...

Sorry for my delay in replying to comments.

Draig reminded me of something I should have known. I googled it and found that Andrew Davies had opposed nuclear power for Wales back in 2006.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/4628124.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4370706.stm

However I'm hardly impressed that he put coal forward as the alternative. Yet he shared that position with the UK government, which seems determined to press on with Kingsnorth even though it has no workable CCS solution. Draig knows far more about gas than I do, but I'm not sure that Wales has been earmarked for gas to the extent that a new nuclear station at yr Wylfa will not go ahead. As I read it, the UK government will allow new nuclear to be built wherever there is existing nuclear. As there as so few sites, yr Wylfa must be on that list.

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As for Lyndon's comments, I was tempted to ask why we would be any less "worryingly dependent" on uranium imports for our electricity.

But I think he is being rather over-simplistic about the situation. No private company has yet made the commitment to build a new nuclear station. Indeed no company will do so unless they have:

1. A guaranteed minimum price for electricity
2. A limit on the amount they have to set aside for decommissioning and long term treatment and storage of nuclear waste
3. An understanding that the state pays for the costs of security

However I think even that is ludicrous. Any private company will simply walk away from its long term commitments if they cost them too much. After 30 or 40 years of generation it will cease to make any money to pay for decommissioning. So if the sums are fudged at the outset, there is no possibility of making the money to cover it. Being realistic, it would be another sorry example of privatizing profit but leaving the public to pick up any loss.

As for jobs on Ynys Môn, of course it will be a blow. But some jobs have too high a price. However, as a suggestion, why shouldn't the large harbour at Holyhead become the centre for offshore wind turbine manufacture and maintenance for the Irish Sea. As I said before, there are plans for windfarms so large that they will produce more electricity than the current nuclear station ever has.

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The solution is the same as it always has been. Take steps to reduce energy consumption and generate the electricity we need from renewables.

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