EDF considers extending life of two UK nuclear plants due to energy crisis

Hartlepool and Heysham 1, operational for four decades, are due to close in 2024 but EDF says that is under review

France’s EDF is considering extending the life of two British nuclear power plants due to the severity of the energy crisis.

EDF said on Wednesday that it would review whether there was a case to keep open the Hartlepool nuclear power plant in County Durham and Heysham 1 on the north-west coast of England near Lancaster. Both plants had been scheduled to close in March 2024.

EDF operates all of Britain’s eight nuclear power plants, five of which are still providing power to the grid, about 13% of the UK’s electricity. The entire fleet is due to shut by 2028 apart from Sizewell B, which will close in 2035.

When EDF took over the nuclear fleet in 2009, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool were due to run until 2014. After technical reviews, that was extended to 2019 and then, in 2016, a further five-year extension was approved after further reviews.

Sources said any extra lifespan for the stations was likely to be far shorter than previous extensions. The stations – which produce 2.2 gigawatts of power, enough to power 3.5m homes – have been operational for four decades.

EDF said it had decided to launch the review “in light of the severity of the energy crisis and the results of recent graphite inspections” and said an extension would “depend on the results of graphite inspections over the coming months”.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked turmoil in energy markets and sent gas and electricity prices soaring. It has also caused an international dash for gas supplies and raised concerns over potential blackouts this winter.

The government has moved to shore up winter energy supplies, signing deals to keep coal-fired power stations in Yorkshire and the east Midlands on standby including EDF’s West Burton A plant in Nottinghamshire.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “The government has had no option but to keep these plants on longer term. It underlines that we need a long-term plan for energy generation. We’re a decade late on nuclear and if we don’t move fast enough we will miss the boat on other fuels, like hydrogen. The government needs to give people the confidence to invest.”

Some power-generation companies, including those on nuclear, old solar and windfarm contracts have landed an unexpected windfall from the jump in electricity prices while their costs have not risen, triggering calls for a windfall tax.

EDF said its nuclear fleet would generate 42 terawatt hours of power in 2022. It said that, because it had sold its output in advance, it had delivered at “well below current wholesale prices”.

The Guardian revealed earlier this month that Centrica, which owns a 20% stake in the nuclear fleet alongside EDF, wants to renegotiate its electricity-generation contracts.

Tom Burke, co-founder of the green thinktank E3G, said: “In the current climate it makes a lot of sense [to extend the plants’ lifespans]. The question is mainly about the cost: is the extra time you’re buying worth the cost of keeping it safe? The Office for Nuclear Regulation are not going to play fast and loose with safety so then it depends on the spend. With electricity prices where they are now it probably does make sense.”

EDF said it plans to invest £1bn in the nuclear fleet from 2023 to 2025. The debt-laden company, which is being fully nationalised by the French government, is developing the delayed and over-budget Hinkley Point C project in Somerset.

It is also behind plans for a sister station, Sizewell C, in Suffolk, which was given the green light in the final days of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Getting the most out of our existing nuclear stations is vital to ensuring Britain has a secure supply of power going forward.”

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, on Tuesday pledged to launch Great British Energy, a publicly owned energy company run on clean UK power, if elected.

Contributor

Alex Lawson Energy correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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