Don’t be led up the garden path on the nuclear road to nowhere
By Linda Pentz Gunter
Dear people of Anglesey:
The announcement that a US consortium, consisting of American companies Bechtel, Southern Company and Westinghouse, could take over the Wylfa B nuclear power project in North Wales, may sound like a much-needed jobs panacea, but it is another cruel joke on the people of Anglesey.
Horizon/Hitachi’s legacy of broken promises, destroyed homes and landscapes, and a 100% failure to deliver the promised two-reactor Wylfa B project, is already a bitter pill. Inking a new nuclear deal with the American consortium would turn it into a poison one. Trust me, we know. We’ve already swallowed it.
Here in the US, the track record of Bechtel, Southern Company, Westinghouse and the AP1000 reactor design, now being proposed for Wylfa B, should send a dire warning to Wales.
Westinghouse’s AP1000 two-reactor project at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina ballooned to $9 billion in costs and bilked ratepayers of $2 billion before it was abandoned in 2017 after a 9-year debacle. The project’s director, Stephen Byrne, pled guilty to a massive nuclear conspiracy that defrauded ratepayers, deceived regulators and misled shareholders, but not before pocketing a tidy $6 million for himself.
The company’s former CEO, Kevin Marsh, has agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy fraud charges, will go to prison for at least 18 months, and will forfeit $5 million in connection with the $10 billion nuclear fiasco.
Southern Company’s “flagship” nuclear project at Plant Vogtle in Georgia, where two AP1000 reactors are still under construction, is now five years behind schedule with costs soaring to at least $28 billion, more than double the original projection. The site has recently suffered an epidemic of Covid-19, as the company rushes to meet completion deadlines and save additional costs.
Even $12 billion in federal loan guarantees wasn’t enough to keep the Georgia project afloat, so ratepayers are helping to foot the bill in advance under a law similar to the UK’s regulated asset base scheme, with no guarantee that the reactors will ever be finished.
Bechtel is no more reliable and was caught up in a 2016 lawsuit that led to a $126 million settlement for subpar work while building a nuclear waste treatment facility at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Of course, that’s just the tip of Bechtel’s ugly iceberg. It, too, has seen company executives convicted of crimes, and was a key player in Iraq, before, during and after the US war there, helping to bring about the war in the first place, then scoring more than $680 million in contracts to help rebuild what it was complicit in destroying.
Efforts to find a new buyer for Wylfa B now that Hitachi, which owns the land, has decided to withdraw, are also rife with hollow promises. One such claim, that a revived Wylfa B would deliver electricity at a “market competitive price”, really means that Welsh electricity customers and British taxpayers will pay, because nuclear by itself isn’t competitive. That’s already borne out by the financial collapse of the AP1000 Moorside project in Cumbria, where weeds now obscure the NuScale sign at the abandoned site.
The false narrative put forward to justify resumption of nuclear construction at Wylfa B — that it is essential in order to reach a 2050 net zero emissions target — is disproven by reality: new nuclear power plants are by far the most expensive option, especially compared to the rapidly falling cost of renewables, and take far too long to tackle climate change, which is here, now.
Nuclear power is the slowest and most expensive way to reduce carbon emissions, per kilowatt hour. Choosing new nuclear therefore impedes and supplants renewable energy development, which would save more carbon far sooner and faster and at a lower cost.
Fortunately there are alternatives for the region, whose young people should not feel forced to leave to find work; whose farmers should be able to maintain their way of life; whose families should not have to watch their ancestral homes torn down; and whose local businesses could once again thrive.
Sustainable, Wales-based projects that employ local people in the long-term, while preserving language, culture and landscape, are abundantly possible. Many of these can be found in a new report from SAIL, which outlines a foundational economy for Ynes Môn — as Anglesey is more properly known in Welsh — and Gwynedd.
Reclaiming the Wylfa site to re-wild it would do more for climate change than a nuclear power plant and would attract visitors to its natural wonders, Heritage Coastline and extraordinary wildlife. More visitors in turn helps stimulate local businesses.
The island is even primed for new renewable energy projects, especially offshore wind, which again would provide much-needed, longterm employment.
There is no need for the people of Anglesey to be deceived once again by foreign corporations bearing false nuclear gifts that fail to materialize. Opening the door to Bechtel and co. will only lead to yet more environmental damage, and to more despair and disillusionment as, once again, promised nuclear jobs fail to materialize.
Anglesey can avoid being led down another garden path, soon to be overgrown with weeds, on the nuclear road to nowhere. It’s time for Anglesey Council to step up and say no to nuclear and commit to projects that will deliver safe, long-term jobs to the region without stealing money from the pockets of ratepayers and without wrecking the precious landscape they call home.
Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear and writes for and edits Beyond Nuclear International.
Headline photo: Anglesey flora by CW Moore/Creative Commons.
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