The new boss of Horizon Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of Hitachi, wants to build reactors capable of supplying 10m homes at Wylfa on Anglesey, and Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire. Hawthorne’s arrival is timely. Britain’s nuclear ambitions have been thrown into doubt by the Brexit vote and the appointment of Theresa May as prime minister. Shock waves were sent through the industry last month with the announcement that the government now wanted time to review the plans for the Hinkley Point plant in Somerset, set to be built by the French giant EDF with Chinese backing. Hawthorne thinks scrutiny of Hinkley on security grounds is “not unreasonable”, but says worries that China could deprive Britain of power at the flick of a switch are misplaced. “The whole process has checks and balances. All the plant systems are isolated from the outside world by air gaps. Then it becomes a conversation about political intent. How much of our critical infrastructure do we want to control and how do we want to control it?” Horizon’s deal with the government will be very different to EDF’s, the chief executive insists. Hawthorne wants to get heads of terms — general contract principles — signed in the “near future”. That will set Hitachi on course to make a final investment decision on Wylfa by the end of the decade. The cost is expected to be about £10bn. Oldbury would follow later. In the wake of the Hinkley delay, Hawthorne has sought — and received — assurances from Whitehall that Horizon’s project is not under threat. “We were keen to hear it was not part of an overall policy review,” he says. Yet Tokyo’s nerves have been frayed. What would help to soothe them is a public commitment from May to the nuclear programme and Wylfa. “We’ve spent £1.2bn on this project that we may never see again if we don’t get to a successful conclusion,” the boss says. “A statement from this prime minister would be highly valuable.” One remote possibility is the government halting new nuclear altogether. The gas price slump has led some to advocate a swathe of relatively cheap gas-powered stations. That could help to bridge the gap until renewable energy is better able to do the job and battery storage has taken a big leap forward.
Times 28th Aug 2016 read more »