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Wylfa engineer makes case for £20bn ‘boring’ nuclear project

wylfa newydd cgi horizon nuclear power

As work on the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station hangs in the balance, the engineer leading the project’s technical operations has told New Civil Engineer he is confident the team can deliver on time and on budget thanks to a risk-free design.

Horizon Nuclear Power is the Hitachi-owned UK firm set up to deliver two new nuclear power stations in the UK – one at Wylfa on the Isle of Anglesey off north Wales, and the other at Oldbury, south Gloucestershire. The project could potentially cost up to £20bn.

The plans are for two advanced boiling water reactors (ABWR) using a combination of Hitachi and GE technology. Horizon is hoping construction will start next year and be completed in the mid-2020s, with design maturity meaning the projects are low-risk, as Hitachi has already built four other nuclear power stations using the same technology

Horizon director of technical operations Mark Lunn said: “I’m not looking for unique. I always tell my engineers I’m looking for a boring project, not an exciting one.”

Works at Wyfla could be paused as Hitachi seeks extra funding for the project. It comes after talks between prime ministers Theresa May and Shinzo Abe last week in which the plant was described as being “strategically important”.

The generic design assessment (GDA) for the project has been completed, with around 45 changes, which Lunn says are minimal compared to other nuclear projects. 

“We have strategy to look to minimise design change during construction,” he said, pointing out that the amount of design change on other nuclear new builds has been hugely expensive. “One of the things Hitachi has that is a distinct advantage is that it has built a number of ABWR nuclear power stations in the past to cost and schedule. What has really driven that is design maturity, so not starting construction until the design is complete and that might sound a bit trite, but is really critical.”

Significant changes at Wylfa from previous projects include the emergency diesel generators moving into a separate building from the reactor building and, post- Fukushima, building a back-up building that is completely independent from normal operations enabling engineers to shut down the reactors and manage cooling. In 2011 a tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear power station in Japan, where the cooling systems failed.

Horizon is working with Wylfa’s project managers Bechtel to get the design as complete as possible, as early as possible, so that the design at the appropriate stage for the corresponding work.

“We won’t go into procurement if we haven’t completed the detailed design and we won’t go into construction if we haven’t completed the construction design,” said Lunn.

There are currently 80 engineers working on the project, with others working for consultants. In October, Atkins was given the civil engineering design contract for the site. 

The Anglesey site will require some specific civil engineering, according to Lunn. “We have a truly incredible site at Wylfa. We have put a lot of time and effort into developing our understanding of the seismology, of Anglesey and North Wales.”

This will include shore-side intakes, but the reactor will have separate intakes and outtakes without the need for off-shore tunnels. There will also be a marine loading facility to enable minerals to come to site.

Horizon is currently in negotiation with engineering firms for the main island contracts, which it hopes will be in place by the summer.   

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Mark Lunn; does that 20bn include decommissioning costs and storing nuclear waste for 200,000?
    I guess I know the answer and I know you wont be around after the damage has been done. perhaps we should leave the waste with your family for the next 10,000generations to look after? Are they up for the task?
    To me working on such projects is morally reprehensible. The ICE doesn't have morals or ethics on such things as long term waste generation, so they are not going to say anything. I just hope you manage to grow a conscience.
    Not happy with any of these nukes being constructed or that are in planning. They need to be banned.

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  • @ R Annett, Nuclear Generation Companies, starting with EDF at Hinkley Point C, are entering waste transfer contracts now to set aside revenue made during the generation period of the sites to pay for decommissioning of the new sites. “Waste transfer contracts signed today mean that, for the first time in the UK, the full costs of decommissioning and waste management associated with the new power station are set aside during generation and are included in the price of the electricity,” EDF said in a statement. (from Guardian article, not sure if i can post a URL but it's google-able). Modern sites are 'designed for decommissioning'.

    So, in a short answer to your question, no the £20Bn doesnt include it, but it is being considered.

    As for the storage of nuclear waste; after a relatively short duration the waste becomes pretty inert. No one is saying that you could stack it next to your fresh fruit and veg, but also no one would do that with the slag heaps and waste spoils from coal sites and other forms of power generation. The creation of CO2 in the atmosphere and the subsequent damage caused is morally reprehensible - it is just a lot easier to justify as we cannot hold it in our hands, or see it. Another reason we dont just 'get rid of the waste' is that it is actually a pretty valuable fuel. If you had a gas cylinder, and only burnt 5% of it, would you throw the cylinder away? the 'spent' nuclear fuel can be and is being reprocessed into other forms of nuclear fuel. More investment = more progress = better efficiencies.

    While i accept there are lots of challenges for legacy sites, as they literally were not designed to be decommissioned, modern, new build nuclear is a different beast.

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