Credit: William M. Connolley under GNU Free Documentation License

Wales advances plans to revive small nuclear plants 

As part of plans to rejuvenate Trawsfynydd in north Wales, the Welsh government has recruited leading U.K. civil nuclear executive Mike Tynan to make use of small nuclear reactors to produce energy. 

Trawsfynydd is the site of one of Britain’s first atomic energy plants, located in Snowdonia National Park in Gwynedd. Tynan is set to join a new publicly-owned development company Cwmni Egino as interim chief executive, with the site making use of small nuclear reactors, according to a report in the Financial Times.  The company is in charge of utilising the “economic benefits” of small scale reactors at Trawsfynydd.

Tynan formerly headed UK operations at US nuclear engineering group Westinghouse and he is a former chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board.  The Welsh government reported that it was “in the process of finalising arrangements relating to this position”.

In addition, the Welsh government said that installing small modular reactors and a medical research reactor at Trawsfynydd would deliver a “significant economic opportunity for north west Wales that is firmly wedded to our response to the climate emergency”.

Progressing into the future, it is predicted that small nuclear reactors may be required as a carbon-free energy source option to supplement intermittent sources like wind and solar.

Just last month the government announced proposals to employ a high temperature gas model for the prototype next-generation nuclear reactor.  British prime minister Boris Johnson has already endorsed the development of large and small scale nuclear energy projects alike in his 10 Point Plan for a “green industrial revolution” in November.

Johnson pledged £525M “to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors”.

Nonetheless head of analysis for the thinktank, the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, Jonathan Marshall, criticised the announcement as “disappointing”, since it had previously been suggested that the development of mini nuclear power stations could be strengthened by a £2bn government investment.

The plant, which became operational in 1965, was the only nuclear power station in the UK to be built inland. It was closed in 1991 with its decommissioning is expected to last decades. The aid plan was anticipated to facilitate the design and construction of 16 sites by 2050, with a Rolls-Royce-led association tackling the work.  In 2020, Rolls Royce expressed that there was a “pretty high probability” Trawsfynydd could station the first plant in Britain.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Rolls Royce-led association chief executive Tom Samson said that “Wales in particular holds significant potential” for small modular reactors. He explicitly specified both Trawsfynydd and Anglesey as prospective locations.

Meanwhile in the US, power companies headed by American business magnates Bill Gates and Warren Buffett announced plans to launch a small advanced reactor in sparsely populated Wyoming in June.  The first small-scale project in the United States, NuScale Power, proposed the development of 12, 77Mw modules at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory.

At present, work to fully decommission the Trawsfynydd site is expected to take almost 100 years.

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