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Hitachi strikes UK climate ambitions and prepares to withdraw nuclear project

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Hitachi is preparing to abandon plans to build a new power plant at Wilpa, on the island of Anglesey, off the northern coast of Wales, seriously damaging Britain’s struggling nuclear program.

The Japanese industry group is expected to make a formal decision at its board meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday, said several close to the project.

This move is the most recent blow to Britain’s nuclear program at a time when it is in a rush to reduce climate-causing emissions to achieve the’net zero’ target by 2050.

Wind held a share of over 50% of total electricity generation in the UK power market during 2020. However, nuclear power is seen by many in the industry as providing a stable, weather-independent supply base.

Hitachi’s withdrawal from Wylfa will hurt Britain’s plans to lower its reliance on China to fund other nuclear projects amid growing backlash from British politicians.

Hitachi acquired the Horizon Nuclear for £69.7 million from two German utility companies in 2012.

Artist’s view of the planned Wylfa power plant at Anglesey © Horizon Nuclear Power/EPA

However, the £20 billion plan was insulting in January 2019 after the company failed to secure a financial contract with the UK government. Hitachi said the project posed “too great a fiscal challenge” even when ministers at the time offered taxpayer investment.

However, Hitachi retained skeleton staff and continued to seek planning permits for the project.

In recent August, company executives were still optimistic that the site could come back to life. Horizon chief executive Duncan Hawthorne said at the time: “What I was trying to do. . . It is to convince people that our freeze has not in any way weakened our ability to restart fast. . . We are ready to go.”

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Horizon executives believed they were making progress in detailed discussions with British officials in recent weeks, but it seems to be blinded by Hitachi’s decision in Tokyo.

However, one close to Hitachi said the Japanese group’s stance has not changed since the Japanese group stopped the project early last year, and that Tokyo has not supported the recent revival move.

One person close to the project on Tuesday said Hitachi “completely quit” due to a sudden reversal. “All hell is being released. Too much for a 100-year promise,” said the man.

Another person close to Hitachi confirmed that the company is going to announce that it is giving up the site.

The British government has been trying to launch new nuclear programs using international private finance for over a decade, but its success has been limited.

Only one new power plant is under construction at Hinckley Point in Somerset, southwest England, under a consortium led by France’s EDF. Over-budgeted and several years behind schedule, the scheme will receive indirect taxpayer subsidies through a “differential contract” scheme that guarantees the price of electricity the company produces.

Somerset’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant under construction © Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Japan’s Toshiba has canceled plans to build a new reactor at Cumbria Mooreside. Hitachi previously scrapped a separate plant plan at Oldbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire.

Meanwhile, there is growing backlash among Tory MPs against Sizewell and Bradwell’s new power plant plans to include China’s state-owned group CGN with EDF.

Hitachi has been expecting clear guidance from the UK government for a new “regulated asset-based” financing model that will significantly reduce the company’s financing costs by allowing taxpayers to pay more upfront for new power plants.

However, it is expected that the government will provide a broad overview of the future of nuclear power only when it publishes its energy white paper in the fall.

“Hitachi’s decision is a serious blow to the economy in northern Wales, [emissions]”Sue Ferns, senior deputy general manager of the union Prospect, said.

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