While the nation debates the wisdom of restarting its nuclear power plants, the energy source remains central to some nations’ investments for tomorrow. The process to construct a new two-reactor facility in Wales has been going as planned, the British province’s economy minister said.
“There’s a confidence that the plant will be delivered, that it will work well, and that it will do good for the local community in terms of employment opportunities,” said Edwina Hart, economy minister of the National Assembly for Wales. She was speaking to The Japan Times last week during a working visit to Japan.
Horizon Nuclear Power, which is wholly owned by Hitachi Ltd., plans to build two advanced boiling water reactors on Anglesey Island.
Known as the Wylfa Newydd project, the program is currently at the community consultation phase. This involves soliciting opinions of local residents and authorities.
“People need to understand what things look like, how they look and everything,” said Hart.
“This type of engagement is very important,” she said.
When it comes to safety, prime responsibility lies with the operator. The U.K. government oversees the industry and the role of the Welsh Assembly is to get local companies involved in the supply chain and to provide a skilled workforce, she said.
Horizon says the community consultation is a pre-application process. It plans to submit an application for a development consent order in 2017, with completion and operation of the reactors anticipated in the mid-2020s.
“It’s a very long process. This is the issue. But the point is that it is a process that is proceeding as we would expect,” Hart said.
The firm says construction will create up to 8,500 jobs, while operation of the plant will require 900 to 1,000 new jobs.
Hart also visited Japan last year on a trade mission and tried to encourage Japanese companies to invest in Wales.
It apparently paid off, as she said Friday that Calby Inc., Japan’s biggest snack maker, had picked Wales as the location of its first investment in Europe.
The new facility will be a site for manufacturing and distribution, as well as research and development.
Wales hosted 50 Japanese firms as of 2012, including Sony and Toyota.
Another target for Wales is Japanese tourists.
For the past few years, Japanese visitors to the U.K. have numbered 220,000 to 245,000 annually.
They “tend to fly into Heathrow (airport), go into London, nip to the Lake District, the Cotswolds and up to Scotland, and go back down to Heathrow. So, we wanted them to make that journey further west into Wales. We do think there is a market and potential there,” said Hart, adding that she has met people in the travel industry and asked what appeals to Japanese tourists.
She said Wales offers a wide range of attractions, such as gardens, castles and coastal sites.
As for Scotland’s independence referendum in September, Hart said she was watching with interest because “what the Scots do affects all of us in terms of our respected devolution settlements.”
She said opinion polls show there is little support for independence in Wales, but people want to see further powers devolved to Wales from the U.K. government.
For instance, the Welsh government does not have power over railways and energy, she said.
Hart said while the Welsh government supported Scotland’s continued membership of the U.K., the independence movement has triggered discussion of devolution settlements across the U.K.