Why 'nuclear' ship was anchored off Anglesey

A ship idling off Anglesey has been identified as a nuclear fuel carrier. MV Pacific Grebe has been anchored off Trearddur Bay for more than a day after circling the waters nearby.

The vessel is due to dock in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, on May 29, having sailed from Montreal, Canada. It is not known why the ship has stopped off Anglesey but it could be simply waiting for a berthing slot in Cumbria.

Another theory is that is Pacific Grebe has been sheltering from the stormy weather of the past 24 hours – ironic after a trouble-free trip across the Atlantic. The vessel is one of three operated by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd (PNTL), a company mainly owned by the UK’s Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS) but with French and Japanese involvement.

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All three of the diesel-powered ships transport high-level waste and other nuclear material. Collectively, they’ve carried more than 2,000 nuclear casks over five million miles to countries around the world.

The Pacific Glebe could soon be due a dramatic makeover. A feasibility study is being carried out to consider retrofitting the 104-metre vessel with unique FastRig sails – tall, rigid rectangular structures that could significantly cut vessel fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

If trials are successful, the technology could be rolled out to up to many of the 40,000 commercial ships that have enough free deck space to enable their conversion to sailing hybrids. Most will be tankers and bulkers.

The Pacific Grebe entered full service in 2011 and is primarily designed for shipping conditioned nuclear waste. Given the nature of the cargo, it was designed to be bulletproof – its cargo compartments are double hulled with impact resistant structures. All essential systems have independent backups to “provide high reliability and accident survivability”. North Wales Live has a WhatsApp community group where you can get the latest stories delivered straight to your phone

PNTL said: “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. Get the best island stories from our Anglesey newsletter - sent every Friday

"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 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 Westminister government has already agreed to buy the Wyfla B site, previously twice been abandoned by power developers. It’s looking to build a nuclear power station, similar in scale to Hinkley in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk. Early-stage talks are reportedly taking place with South Korea’s state energy monopoly Kepco.

There are many hurdles to navigate before Wyfla B’s construction is green-lighted, and a decade or more for the power plant to be built. But if the project succeeds, sail-powered nuclear fuel carriers may one day become a familiar sight off the Anglesey coast.

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