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UK in talks with Hitachi over buying Welsh nuclear site

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The British government is seeking to take control of a key site in Wales earmarked for a nuclear power plant as part of wider plans to revamp nuclear technology for the UK.   

State-owned Great British Nuclear is in early-stage discussions with Hitachi, owner of the land in Wylfa in Anglesey, an island off north Wales, to buy the site with a view to finding a new private sector partner to develop a station there. 

The site has been in limbo since Hitachi abandoned plans to build a new reactor there in January 2019 after failing to strike a financial agreement with the British government. The Japanese industrial group eventually wrote off £2.1bn on the project. It also stopped work at a second site in Oldbury, South Gloucestershire.

Ministers are now determined to revive plans to use the Wylfa site for new nuclear power to help replace Britain’s current ageing fleet of nuclear reactors. 

About 14 per cent of the UK’s power was supplied by nuclear plants in 2022. All but one of the fleet is set to close by the end of the decade, however, just as demand for low-carbon electricity is set to rise as part of the shift away from fossil fuels. The government wants the UK to have 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050, compared with almost 6GW today. 

Despite grandiose talk of a new generation of nuclear reactors, only one project is under construction — Hinkley Point C — and it is running billions of pounds over budget and several years late. A second proposed project at Sizewell in Suffolk has not yet reached its final investment stage. 

One minister confirmed that tentative negotiations with Hitachi had already begun although they acknowledged the deal might not be finalised until after the election later this year.

The land is thought to be worth about £200mn, but there are expectations that Hitachi could settle for a lower price given the site is fallow. 

Another figure close to the energy department said: “There are sensible conversations happening and Hitachi has no reason to hold out; they ought to take a cheaper price because the land currently has no value whatsoever.”

The site is one of eight areas in England and Wales that were earmarked for new nuclear power by the then-coalition government in 2010. It is next to the site of two former Magnox reactors that closed in 2012 and 2015, the last Magnox reactors in Britain.

Great British Nuclear was set up by the government in July last year to try to push forward new nuclear projects. Taking over the Wylfa land would pave the way for the government striking a deal with a developer to build a new plant there.

A consortium led by the US nuclear company Westinghouse and construction group Bechtel has proposed building a new plant there using Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor technology. It is thought the site could also host small modular reactors. 

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said the government had ended the “stop-start” approach to nuclear and “launched a road map setting out the biggest expansion of the sector in 70 years”. 

It added: “Wylfa is one of a number of potential sites that could host civil nuclear projects. Whilst no decisions on sites have yet been taken, we are working with Great British Nuclear to support access to potential sites for new nuclear projects.”

Hitachi said: “We own two of the premier locations for nuclear new build in the UK and we will continue to speak with interested parties about the future for the sites.”

Additional reporting by Kana Inagaki and Sylvia Pfeifer.

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