Energy bosses have promised an ageing West Country nuclear power station is safe after being given a seven-year life extension to help keep Britain’s lights on.
Hinkley Point B near Bridgwater, West Somerset, started generation in 1976 and was due to be decommissioned in 2016. After making the announcement yesterday, French-owned energy giant EDF Energy said the decision was made following a “thorough review of safety”.
The firm insisted the move would have no impact on a replacement power station on the Somerset coast that is slated to be the first in a new generation of nuclear plants.
While 2018 has been mooted as a date for the first new Hinkley C reactors to be operational, EDF has yet to make an “investment decision” to trigger a time-scale following the publication of the Government’s Energy Bill last week.
EDF’s decision, which follows work with the independent nuclear regulator, comes amid reports that Chancellor George Osborne will announce plans for up to 30 gas-fired power stations in this week’s autumn statement.
Councils and trade unions have welcomed the news for bringing more job security, with training and employment for a new generation of plant workers.
The B station employs around 535 full time staff, including 44 apprentices, as well as 220 full time staff from contract partners. The wage bill alone is an estimated £40m a year which goes into the local economy.
But anti-nuclear campaigners have condemned the decision, however, warning it “mirrors mistakes” made at Fukushima power station following floods in Japan.
EDF has also extended the life of Hunterston B station in North Ayrshire. Some 1,500 staff and contractors are employed at the two plants, which generate enough electricity for around two million homes.
EDF Energy chief executive Vincent de Rivaz said: “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.”
He added: “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.”
Energy Minister John Hayes said the decision was “absolutely fantastic news”, adding: “This decision will also secure hundreds of skilled jobs in both Somerset and North Ayrshire, highlighting the value of nuclear energy to our economy and society.”
But Stop Hinkley spokesman Theo Simon said: “This decision to prop up the aging and cracked reactor at Hinkley B well past it’s sell-by date is potentially very hazardous for all of us. EDF and Centrica may want to squeeze every last drop of profit out of it, but the potential for a nuclear mishap at Hinkley B increases exponentially with age. We should remember that the oldest of the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi had been given a 10 year life-extension by government regulators just weeks before the tsunami caused cracked diesel generators to fail leading to a collapse of the cooling system.”
“The recent flooding around Hinkley was a foretaste of the weather chaos we can expect in the next decades, and makes the site – on the edge of the second highest tidal range in the world – increasingly vulnerable, and potentially inaccessible in an emergency.”
“EDF are obviously concerned about delays in their new Hinkley C project which mean that even if it gets the rubber stamp from government next year, there would be no new generation on site until the early 20s. It now looks increasingly likely that they may not raise the private investment they need to complete the project – especially following news that their work on a new plant in Flamanville is now 250% over budget at 8.5 billion euros. This announcement about Hinkley B is designed to give a sense of moving forward, when in reality the nuclear project is stalling.”
“It is only the complicity of Government departments that is now keeping this project alive. We believe that the Office of Nuclear Regulation is under immense political pressure to keep EDF happy and is now rubber stamping decisions which could be catastrophic for somerset and for future generations. We don’t need old nuclear and we don’t need new nuclear – we need a renewables revolution in the South West.”