Huge nuclear ship spotted docked off Welsh coast

A huge ship which has been spotted lingering off the coast of Anglesey has been identified as a nuclear fuel carrier. The vessel is known as the MV Pacific Grebe and has been anchored off Trearddur Bay for more than a day after circling the nearby waters.

It is understood the ship is scheduled to dock in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, on May 29, having set sail from Montreal, Canada. It remains unclear why the ship has made a stop-off near Anglesey though it could simply be waiting for a berthing slot in Cumbria.

Another theory suggests that the Pacific Grebe may have sought shelter from the stormy weather of the past 24 hours. The vessel is one of three operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd (PNTL), a company primarily owned by the UK's Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS) but with French and Japanese involvement, reports NorthWalesLive.

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All three diesel-powered ships are used to transport high-level waste and other nuclear materials. Together they've transported more than 2,000 nuclear casks more than five million miles to countries around the globe.

The Pacific Grebe could soon undergo a dramatic transformation. A feasibility study is currently being conducted to consider retrofitting the 104m vessel with unique FastRig sails – tall rigid rectangular structures that could significantly reduce vessel fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

If the trials prove successful this technology could be implemented on many of the 40,000 commercial ships that have sufficient free deck space to enable their conversion into sailing hybrids. Most of these will be tankers and bulk carriers.

The Pacific Grebe, which entered full service in 2011, is primarily used for transporting conditioned nuclear waste. Due to the nature of its cargo it was designed to be bulletproof while its cargo compartments are double-hulled with impact-resistant structures.

All essential systems have independent backups to "provide high reliability and accident survivability". PNTL stated: "In the unlikely event of a ship getting into difficulty a fully trained and equipped team of marine and nuclear experts is available on a 24-hour emergency standby system. The world's leading salvage experts, SMIT, are also contracted to support any unforeseen circumstances PNTL ships may face and the ships are equipped with a specialist system to assist in their location and subsequent salvage should the unlikely need arise."

The MV Pacific Grebe in choppier seas on Thursday morning
It is understood the ship is scheduled to dock in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, on May 29

The ship's arrival off Anglesey coincided with a UK Government announcement that Wylfa, on the island's north coast, has been named as its preferred site for the UK's third mega-nuclear power station. .The site has long been mooted for a new power plant. However to date a financial model to make such a project viable for private sector investment has proved elusive. Japanese industrial giant Hitachi abandoned its plans back in 2019, writing off £2.1bn in the process. For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter.

With only Hinkley Point C under construction the UK Government is desperately seeking a new wave of reactors alongside the potential for smaller but more agile and quicker-to-deliver modular nuclear reactors. The Westminster administration wants to see 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050 compared to the current 6GW. New plant plans have already been put forward at Wylfa from a US consortium consisting of construction firm Betchel and nuclear venture Westinghouse using its AP1000 reactor technology.

Secretary of state for energy security and net zero, Claire Coutinho, said: “We are powering ahead with the biggest expansion of nuclear energy in 70 years. Anglesey has a proud nuclear history and it is only right that, once again, it can play a central role in boosting the UK’s energy security. Wylfa would not only bring clean, reliable power to millions of homes – it could create thousands of well-paid jobs and bring investment to the whole of north Wales.”