UK government buys Wylfa and Oldbury nuclear sites from Hitachi

06 March 2024

An agreement to buy the Hitachi-owned sites for new nuclear at Wylfa in north Wales and Oldbury-on-Severn in southwest England has been reached for GBP160 million (USD203 million), Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced.

Hitachi pulled out of plans for a nuclear project at Wylfa in 2020 (Image: Horizon Nuclear Power)

The two sites are expected to be prioritised for new nuclear as the UK seeks to expand nuclear energy capacity. Hunt, delivering the annual Budget speech to Parliament, said the purchase had been made "given the importance of securing nuclear sites for the success of the nuclear programme".

The UK government aims to grow nuclear energy capacity to 24 GW by 2050, with a fleet of small modular reactors (SMRs) a key part of that strategy. Last year, the government and the new Great British Nuclear arms-length body set up to help deliver that extra capacity began the selection process for which SMR technology to use. In October, EDF, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Holtec, NuScale Power, Rolls Royce SMR and Westinghouse were invited to bid for UK government contracts in the next stage of the process.

Hunt said that as well as seeking a site for a new GW-scale nuclear plant, "the government is now moving to the next stage of the SMR process, with six companies invited to submit their initial tender responses by June this year". He added that "no decisions have been taken on projects".

In an interview with World Nuclear News in January, Great British Nuclear Chairman Simon Bowen said that they were looking to get access to the existing earmarked nuclear sites in the country "like Oldbury, Wylfa, Heysham, Hartlepool and the others ... those are recognised nuclear sites which we can build on at scale - the SMR programme is all about scale and getting as quickly as we can to deliver on energy security and on the journey to net-zero".

The Horizon Project was to develop two UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor units at Wylfa Newydd with the intention to develop Hitachi's nuclear business in the UK but it decided to suspend the project in January 2019, from the viewpoint of its "economic rationality as a private company" because it was clear that further time was needed to decide on a financing structure for the project, and the conditions for building and operating the nuclear power plants.

Tom Greatrex, CEO of the UK's Nuclear Industry Association, said: "This is a pivotal moment for the future of nuclear in the UK and should mark the beginning of new projects at these sites. Wylfa is one of the very best sites for new nuclear anywhere in Europe and there is great promise for a series of SMRs at Oldbury. The success of ramping up nuclear capacity for energy security and net zero rests a great deal on whether we develop at these sites and others."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News