Trawsfynydd – Site of the UK’s First SMR ?

John Idris Jones, Socio-Economic Development Consultant
John Idris Jones, Socio-Economic Development Consultant

The UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee recently published the results of its inquiry into nuclear in Wales. Whilst complementary about the ongoing decommissioning work at Trawsfynydd and Wylfa, and expressing the need for value for money from new developments – including Wylfa Newydd, the Committee also expressed its support for developing SMRs in the UK . It further identified the need for the Government to make progress soon in creating the appropriate regulatory and business environment for developing SMRs in the UK. It went onto recommend that Trawsfynydd be designated as site for the first-of-a-kind SMR in the UK.

Trawsfynydd is located on an inland lake in the Snowdonia National Park in North West Wales and is the site of two magnox reactors which are part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s estate . The Magnox site is currently undergoing decommissioning. The reactors operated between 1965 and 1991 creating 69 TWh of low carbon electricity. Land adjacent to the nuclear licensed site is also in the ownership of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and has been designated part of the Snowdonia Enterprise Zone by the Welsh Government. The area has a tradition of electrical generation and industrial activity : the 300 MWe Ffestiniog pumped storage station is some 5 miles up the road and some 20 miles away is the Dinorwig Pumped Storage Scheme – capable of generating 1600 MWe in 15 seconds. However, the end of electricity generation at Trawsfynydd and the closure of traditional industries in the area led to outmigration of people from this part of North West Wales; it has also resulted in the area having some of the lowest wage levels in Wales. However, there is still a capable and nuclear savy workforce at the Trawsfynydd site and the area is supportive of the nuclear industry.

The Welsh Government’s Snowdonia Enterprise Zone Advisory Board has identified that developing an SMR at Trawsfynydd is the main feasible option for future developments at the site and that an SMR development at Trawsfynydd would complement the Wylfa Newydd Project (located some sixty miles away off the north coast of Anglesey)– helping to improve skills and manufacturing in North Wales.

The Enterprise Zone Advisory Board has had work done looking at site characteristics which might support or undermine the feasibility of deployment of an SMR. It has concluded that there are no physical constraints to the deployment of an SMR at Trawsfynydd.

Trawsfynydd is on a 1200 acre lake – Llyn Trawsfynydd – which acted as the cooling sink for the 2 magnox reactors when they were operating. These reactors had an electrical design output of 470 MWe Assessment work carried out during the UK Government’s 2009 Strategic Siting Assessment identified that Trawsfynydd was not suitable for large reactors (greater than 1000 MW) because of limitations due to the amount of cooling water which would need to be extracted from the lake. However, this makes the site ideal for SMRs which will require a smaller cooling capacity for their lower output than the larger ABWR or Generation 3 PWRs

The site also has excellent grid connectivity – Adjacent to the site is a major national Grid substation which is on the National Grid’s ‘North Wales ring main’. This will be further enhanced as part of the work being done by NGT in their North Wales Connection Project which aims to enhance grid connections to Wylfa Newydd (located 65 miles north of Trawsfynydd).

North West Wales has also good transport connectivity with the North West of England – where major nuclear supply chain organisations are based. Trawsfynydd is not far from centres of nuclear excellence in the North of England – places such as NNL at Warrington, the Nuclear Advance Manufacturing Centre in Rotherham, fuel manufacturing at Springfields near Preston and Urenco in Cheshire. There is also the potential to resurrect the railway line to the Trawsfynydd site – disused since the end of electricity generation but capable of being restored and linked to the main rail network in Blaenau Ffestiniog.

During the Parliamentary Inquiry , the local authority Gwynedd County Council said that developing an SMR at Trawsfynydd would be extremely beneficial for the area. The leader of Gwynedd Council – told the inquiry that an SMR at Trawsfynydd could help reverse local emigration and expressed support for siting such a development there. The inquiry also received evidence in support of bringing an SMR to Trawsfynydd from local residents, trade unions, the business sector and industry experts.

The public sector in North West Wales and in Cardiff has already shown that it can work in partnership to support the derisking of other low carbon energy developments which bring positive economic benefits to the region. This support and willingness to help private sector investors derisk their projects makes the possibility of an SMR development at Trawsfynydd more likely.

The Welsh Affairs Committee Inquiry has shown that the site at Trawsfynydd has many advocates to be the location of the UK’s first SMR – including the local population, trade unions, local government, the government in Cardiff and industry experts. It will be interesting to see how the Government in Westminster now responds to the Inquiry’s recommendations and progresses on facilitating the development of SMRs in the UK.