Government buys back Oldbury land for nuclear project in £160m deal

THE government is buying back land near the former Oldbury nuclear power station, 15 years after selling it off.

A £160 million deal for the land at Oldbury-on-Severn and another site at Wylfa, on Anglesey, was announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in Wednesday’s budget.

The land will be bought by Great British Nuclear (GBN), which is described as a “government arms-length body created to drive forward delivery of new nuclear generating capacity”.

A consultation on new nuclear sites, part of the “Civil nuclear: roadmap to 2050” paper on the website, is open until Sunday, March 10.

Current owner Hitachi abandoned its own plans to develop the site when its subsidiary Horizon Nuclear Power ceased operations in 2020.

Minister for Nuclear Andrew Bowie hailed the decision as “a major step forward for the UK’s nuclear revival”, adding: “We are bringing nuclear back to the historic sites of Wylfa and Oldbury – and with it jobs, investment and clean energy.”

The news was welcomed by regional development partnership Western Gateway, which has been lobbying for new nuclear projects at Oldbury since the end of Horizon, including an unsuccessful bid for the site to host an experimental nuclear fusion reactor.

Oldbury is now in line to be a site for a small modular reactor (SMR): the shortlist of six firms invited to bid for what GBN describes as “potentially multi-billion-pound technology development contracts” includes GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy International, a joint enterprise between the site’s Japanese current owner and American giant General Electric.

15 years of false starts

The land around Oldbury was originally sold off in 2009, while the original power station (pictured above) was still generating electricity.

It was one of three sites sold for a total of £387m by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Horizon Nuclear Power was set up by EON UK plc and RWE Npower, who bought Oldbury and Wylfa, to develop new nuclear power stations.

In 2012 Hitachi bought Horizon for £700m but suspended operations in 2019 due to funding problems.

It abandoned its plans for the 170 hectare (420 acre) site, north west of the closed power station, the following year.

A GBN spokesperson said the Oldbury and Wylfa acquisition “includes the land previously sold in 2009 as well as additional land owned by Hitachi in the vicinity of the sites”.

Community engagement promised

GBN chief executive Gwen Parry-Jones said: “Each location has a long history of hosting the UK nuclear industry and has experienced the enormous benefits that nuclear power can bring to their local and regional economies. 

“We deeply appreciate Hitachi’s development of these sites and their work to date was one of the reasons why they were so attractive to us.

“We look forward to engaging with each community in what we hope will be a long and fruitful dialogue.

“As our thinking moves forward, we will update local residents and their representatives in the Wylfa and Oldbury areas.” 

Hitachi executive vice-president Alistair Dormer said: “Hitachi has continued to maintain these sites over the years in order to guarantee their future in playing an important role in the UK energy transition for decades ahead.”

Power for 1 million homes

Western Gateway, whose members include South Gloucestershire Council, said a single small modular reactor (SMR) could potentially power a million homes for 60 years.

Council leader and Western Gateway board member Claire Young said: “The site at Oldbury has long been identified in national policy as suitable for new nuclear, clean energy generation.  This announcement of investment in making that a reality is very welcome. 

“This will help our journey to net zero and we would expect this project to create significant numbers of high-quality education, training, skills and employment opportunities for local people in the construction, R&D and running of any new facilities.”

Recently a consortium including Rolls-Royce and Bristol University announced it was spending £10m at the nearby Berkeley Science and Technology Park, which together with Oldbury is known as Severn Edge, to promote “training, skills, nuclear and low carbon energy innovation to support the delivery of this new generation of nuclear development”.