South Korean state energy monopoly in talks to build new UK nuclear plant

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South Korea’s state energy monopoly is in talks with the UK government about building a new nuclear power station off the coast of Wales, in what could be a big boost to Britain’s plans for a new nuclear fleet.

Kepco has held early-stage discussions with British officials about a new facility at the Wylfa site in Anglesey, and a ministerial meeting is expected this coming week, according to people briefed on the matter.

In his March Budget, chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the government would buy the mothballed site and another from Hitachi for £160mn. In 2019, the Japanese industrial group scrapped its plans to develop a nuclear project at Wylfa, writing off £2.1bn in the process. 

Hunt’s move was designed to facilitate a fresh deal with a new private sector partner to build a power station at Wylfa, which could boost the government’s plans to replace Britain’s current ageing fleet of nuclear power stations. 

About 14 per cent of the UK’s power was supplied by nuclear plants in 2022 but all but one of the fleet is set to close by the end of the decade, just as demand for low-carbon electricity is set to rise as part of the shift away from fossil fuels. 

The government wants the UK to have 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050, compared with roughly 6GW today.

A consortium including US construction group Bechtel and US nuclear company Westinghouse has already proposed building a new plant on the Wylfa site using Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor technology. 

One industry executive with knowledge of the situation said: “Kepco is certainly interested in the project and the company is in talks with the UK government about it.” 

Energy minister Andrew Bowie is expected to meet Kepco this week to discuss the proposals, a government official said. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Desnez) said: “Wylfa has excellent potential and we welcome the interest of all parties who are looking to invest in UK nuclear projects.”

Other industry figures pointed to increasingly active engagement between London and Seoul on a possible investment at Wylfa in recent months. “The Koreans are all over Desnez,” said one. 

One UK government official briefed on the matter said talks were “very much early stages” but that Claire Coutinho, energy secretary, would “very much welcome all interest” in nuclear investment.

Another industry figure said Wylfa’s future would depend on a decision by GB Nuclear, the government quango which now owns the site.

GBN could give the go-ahead for a large reactor or reactors at Wylfa or judge that it is a suitable site for building a cluster of new “small modular reactors”. Supporters of SMRs claim their modular design would make them relatively quick and cheap to build.

“Wylfa is now the next priority site for the UK so it makes sense that Kepco are interested, but they just need GBN to make a decision soon about whether they do want a traditional nuclear power station there,” the figure said. 

One senior Korean government official struck a cautious note about the prospect of Kepco buying the site, saying that building nuclear power stations in the UK was “difficult”. 

“In order to rebuild our nuclear ecosystem and since we have the technological prowess, we can certainly do nuclear projects in the UK if the conditions are right,” he said. “But it is not a good idea for our companies to stretch themselves and do those projects at a loss.”

Kepco declined to comment. 

Despite the UK government’s ambition for 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050, only one project — Hinkley Point C — is under construction, and it is running wildly over-budget and late.

The government has meanwhile asked potential investors in a second proposed project at Sizewell in Suffolk to submit final bids before the summer as ministers seek to reach a final investment decision (FID) by July.

One industry figure said that while there had been conversations about announcing the FID by then, he was not sure that would be feasible.

Centrica is among companies that have expressed an interest in backing the new facility at Sizewell, which is being jointly developed by French-state owned energy company EDF and the UK government. Enec, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, has also been reported as one potential investor

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said it was “delivering the biggest expansion of nuclear power in 70 years” and “exploring a range of nuclear technologies” to reach 24GW of capacity by 2050.

“We are already making progress on our nuclear revival, securing two sites to host new projects,” it added.


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