Sunday, 31 January 2010

Wylfa: to B, or not to B?

Albert Owen MP pops up in the Letters Page of the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail this week to sling mud at the newly appointed Tory candidate, Anthony Ridge-Newman, and the Conservative Party's position on Wylfa B.

Albert thunders, "David Cameron’s closest energy advisor Zac Goldsmith clearly states that if the party sticks to its existing policy it would never allow the building of a new nuclear power station. Well that rules out Wylfa B under the Tories."

If Wylfa B is given the go-ahead it could provide up to 9,000 construction jobs and a further 1,000 to 1,200 highly-skilled, permanent and well paid nuclear jobs. Accordingly, on an island struggling with vast job losses, Wylfa B offers a path to some kind economic salvation - and the quarrel over whether the project will proceed or not will undoubtedly be the defining issue of the 2010 General Election on Anglesey. Albert Owen's letter to the Mail effectively signals the start of the general election campaign on Ynys Mon.

As this is such an important issue for Anglesey the Druid thinks Albert's letter represents the perfect opportunity to examine his claims and to compare and contrast where all the major parties stand on the issue of nuclear power and the building of Wylfa B.


Let's start with Labour itself. In his letter to the Mail, Albert Owen lauds the Labour party's "political leadership and vision on energy projects including Wylfa". 

Yet with most nuclear plants (including the current Wylfa reactor) and half of UK's coal plants due to close over the coming decade, the Department of Energy and Climate Change itself estimates that, of a total of around 75GW in generating capacity, 20GW will disappear by 2015. And as the current peak demand is around 65GW and growing, that means that the UK could be facing energy blackouts by as soon as 2015 - as shown in the excellent graphic below from the Economist:

But surely we can either extend the life of some of the existing reactors or quickly build some new ones to avoid blackouts, right? 

Wrong. Most nuclear plants are over 25 years old and far too ancient to carry on. Wylfa was granted a nine month life extension but after that point it simply will have to close. And, on top of that, even the most optimistic nuclear engineers don't beleive a new nuclear reactor could come online before 2017 - which will already be too late. Plus lets not forget that EU carbon trading regulations will pretty much prevent the building of any new coal-fired coal plants.

Suddenly Albert Owen's lauding of Labour's "vision" and "leadership" on Energy Policy looks very hollow indeed - if not downright deceitful.

As the Druid noted previously when writing about Anglesey Aluminium, the current government has failed to deal with one of the most fundamental requirements of a modern society - a secure and efficient electricity supply:

While it has been pratting around with its obsession with "renewable energy" ... pushing the proliferation of useless windmills across the land, it has taken its eye off the ball and let vitally needed supplies run down. This is nothing short of criminal negligence that will cost our economy – and us – dear.
Well, they may have screwed that all up, but at least the Labour leadership is 100% behind Wylfa B, right?

Wrong again. Jane Davidson, the Labour Assembly Member and Welsh Environment Minster has demanded a public inquiry "on the grounds of concern over the safety and security of the management of future nuclear waste". We are still waiting to hear whether Westminster will accede to her request or not.

Albert Owen is obviously keen to throw as much mud as possible at the Tories in order to divert Anglesey's electors away from his own Party's dismal record on Energy Policy and the mixed messages coming from the Labour top brass about the desirability of Wylfa B.


As noted above, Albert Owen slams Anthony Ridge-Newman's support for Wylfa B by saying "David Cameron’s closest energy advisor Zac Goldsmith clearly states that if the party sticks to its existing policy it would never allow the building of a new nuclear power station".  Its certainly true that Goldsmith said that - but what exactly is the Conservatives' 'existing policy'? Well, the Conservative Party website clarifies the issue like this:

Nuclear power will be part of the energy mix if it is economically viable, but new nuclear power stations should not leave taxpayers with liabilities for their running, decommissioning or waste. Nuclear is not an alternative to developing and expanding renewable forms of energy.
In other words: a Conservative government will only allow new nuclear reactors to be built as long as they do not require any public subsidy during any stage of their life. On Goldsmith's own blog he expands:

There should be zero subsidies (direct or indirect) for nuclear, and nuclear providers must demonstrate an ability to cover future costs of waste disposal and decommissioning. My view – shared by almost all the energy experts I’ve consulted - is that there can be no new nuclear power without government support. There never has been ... Subsidies should be for start up, immature technologies.
So its clear that the Conservatives do not oppose nuclear power per se, they oppose the need for public money to support what should be private enterprise. 

But hold on a moment - as recently as last week Philip Hunt, the Labour minister of state at the Department of Energy and Cimate Change, said that Labour's policy was:
"absolutely clear" that the cost of new nuclear power plants must be met in full by the commercial companies themselves, including the cost of decommissioning and waste management.
Which appears to be exactly identical to the Conservatives' position. So Albert Owen is effectively attacking the Conservative Party for having exactly the same policy as his own Party! What a twpsyn!

Anyway, we can conclude that the construction of Wylfa B will be supported by either a Labour OR Conservative government as long as the E.ON and RWE Npower joint venture (which has bought the land around the exisiting Wylfa reactor to develop Wylfa B) does not require any public subsidy.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru has a long tradition of opposition to nuclear power, as the following clips from various manifestos reveal:

  • 1997 General Election Manifesto: "Nuclear energy is now a broken dream. The only safe way forward is to reduce the demand for energy and develop the use of renewables." 
  • 1999 Assembly Election Manifesto: "We will operate on the basis of a presumption against further open cast mining and nuclear power stations."
  • 2001 General Election Manifesto: "As our dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced and since nuclear energy is not an acceptable option, we shall press for very substantial growth in renewable energy."
  • 2003 Assembly Election Manifesto: "We will call for the devolution of responsibility for large-scale energy projects to the Assembly. This will enable us to block any new nuclear energy stations."
  • 2005 General Election Manifesto: "Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales does not support new nuclear power stations."
  • 2007 Pre-manifesto, Change for the Better: "Plaid Cymru does not support nuclear power."
And here's the relevant snippet from their most recent Manifesto for the 2009 Euro Elections:

So underlined in big bold black letters they "reaffirm our total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales". Notice the weasel word "new" however - which allows Ieuan Wyn Jones, Plaid Leader and AM for Anglesey, to simultaneously stand for both "no nuclear power" and for "nuclear power in Anglesey as it is not a new power station". 

Like the White Queen in Lewis Carroll's "Through The Looking Glass", Ieuan Wyn Jones has an uncanny ability to believe in as many as two impossible things before breakfast. No wonder he's into Unicorns too.

Lib Dems

Opposed. Nothing more to add.


Nuclear energy is an emotive subject and, as we have seen above, leads politicians to tie themselves up in knots so as to be on both sides of the argument at the same time (*cough* Ieuan Wyn Jones *cough*). However as the construction of new Nuclear Reactors is not a devolved matter, we can discount Plaid's wriggly, slippery behaviour. Likewise we can ignore the Lib Dems total opposition as they have no chance of forming the next Administration. That leaves us with Labour and the Conservatives.

As the Druid's investigations prove above, Albert Owen's letter to the Mail is misleading in many ways - the most outrageous being his attacking the Conservatives for having exactly the same nuclear policy as his own Labour party! However, that said, it would appear that neither the Labour Party (excepting Jane Davidson AM) nor the Conservative Party would oppose the construction of Wylfa B as long as E.ON and RWE Npower joint venture does not requite public subsidy.


Anonymous said...

A good and balanced - if a little abrasive - piece. Both Lib Dem and Plaid policies could be important in a hung parliament though, do you not think?


The Druid of Anglesey said...

Dyfed, its a good point - but I'm not yet convinced that there will be a hung parliament. Having said that, if there is a hung parliament, despite his contortions Ieuan Wyn Jones is already pledged to support Wylfa B, and I would have thought that the Lib Dems would be far more interested in securing guarantees from the Tories to hold a referendum on proportional representation than stopping new nuclear sites.