UK nuclear utility EDF Energy is to extend by seven years the life of four of its Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors - two each at Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B.
|Seven more years for Hunterston B (Image: Richard Webb)
Both plants had been expected to shut down in 2016. Today's announcement should see operations continue until at least 2023 - good news for the more than 1500 employees and contractors employed at the plants. It should also reassure UK policy makers worried about the possibility of a looming supply gap facing the country as AGRs approach the end of originally anticipated lifespans, and coal-fired power plants close down to meet EU air quality rules.
The UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) does not set fixed licence periods for nuclear plants; rather they can continue to operate as long as they are deemed safe and pass periodic safety reviews. According to a spokesman, the ONR is "broadly content" with EDF's proposal to manage aging at the plants and the next periodic safety reviews for both stations is scheduled for 2015.
EDF Energy CEO Vincent de Rivaz noted that each year EDF Energy invests some £300 million ($483 million) in parts and for its nuclear fleet while a further £350 million (564 million) is spent on plant operations - with over 90% of total spend remaining inside the UK. This fleet comprises the UK's 14 remaining AGRs as well as a single 1188 MWe pressurised water reactor at Sizewell B. The two units at Hunterston B have a combined output of 890 MWe while those at Hinkley Point B are rated at 870 MWe.
"This decision will provide low carbon energy to keep the lights on in the UK and it will safeguard jobs at the plants, in the UK nuclear industry and its supply chain. It follows a thorough review of safety over the lifetime of each of the plants" said de Rivaz speaking at the re-opening of a visitor centre at Hinkley Point B.
The Hinkley Point B visitors centre will grant visitors an insight into how a nuclear power station works. It has been re-opened in the light of one of ONR's Fukushima recommendations that suggested the company seek to develop transparent and open relationships with the public and other stakeholders.
Referring to the company's intention to build four new reactors in the UK he continued "Life extension does not replace the need for new low carbon generation. Even as we agree to extend the life of our existing plants, we are moving forward with plans to create the next generation of nuclear power stations."
EDF Energy is expected to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the first new plant, Hinkley Point C, by the end of the year with an announcement due early 2013. The company has already awarded over £50 million ($81 million) worth of contracts for the site. Plans received a boost last month with the introduction of the UK government's draft Energy Bill, which contains the market mechanisms necessary for supporting new nuclear in the country, as well as the grant of a site licence for Hinkley Point C.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News