Fresh delays to Wylfa nuclear project as key Hitachi meeting looms

The UK government will likely offer Hitachi a deal on Wylfa before the company's board meeting on Monday


Simon Roach

Wylfa nuclear power station in Tregele, Anglesey, United Kingdom (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The UK government is expected to offer financial support for Hitachi’s Wylfa nuclear power plant in Anglesey, Wales, before the Japanese firm’s board meets next week to discuss the project’s future.

Despite a string of recent media reports over a deal having been agreed between UK prime minister Theresa May and the head of Hitachi, Hiroaki Nakanishi, earlier this month, Unearthed understands that the UK is still considering its position.

The Treasury are thought to be reluctant to put public money into a nuclear sector notorious for cost overruns and construction delays – but are also aware of the deal’s significance for the UK’s energy security and for broader UK-Japan trade relations.

Hitachi are now expecting a firm offer from the UK government before its board meets on 28 May, and is understood to be willing to walk away from the project if its hopes for costs to be shared are not met.

A government spokesperson told Unearthed: “Nuclear power remains a crucial part of the UK’s energy future but we have always been clear this must be delivered at the right price for consumers and taxpayers.

“These discussions are commercially sensitive and ongoing.”

Fresh delays

In the wake of numerous Japanese reports on what the final deal will look like, the newspaper Asahi said on Sunday that the wrangling over financing has delayed the expected operating date from 2025 to 2027. Initial announcements by Horizon, the Hitachi-owned company that will construct the nuclear plant, said that the first reactor would come online by 2020.

The Asahi report also quoted a source close to the construction phase of the project as saying that Hitachi’s cost estimates, which are now thought to have soared to over ‎¥3 trillion (£20bn), have been optimistic.

Speculation has circulated since January that the UK and Japanese governments have been in discussions over a joint financing arrangement to spread liability for the project, where both would be expected to take a significant equity stake.

The Japanese government and Hitachi’s case for direct UK state involvement are thought to be strengthened by Nakanishi’s incoming chairmanship of Keidanren, the leading Japanese business lobby, at the end of this month.

Nakanishi’s joint leadership of Hitachi and Keidanren will add symbolic weight to the UK’s offer on Wylfa in a time when anxieties over the UK’s global trading position are high.

Horizon refused to comment while discussions with the UK government are ongoing.

We have reached out to Hitachi and will update should they provide comment