EDF seeks to postpone closure of two UK nuclear plants beyond 2024

The closure of Hartlepool and Heysham 1 nuclear power plants could be postponed beyond 2024 to help tackle the energy crisis, according to the French-owned energy group EDF.

The company said on 28 September that it would review the case for “short” extensions at the plants to help deal with the energy crisis. The two power stations, which are both located in the north of England, together produce enough electricity to supply around 4 million households.

Hartlepool power station is currently due to stop generating power in March 2024, as is one of the two power stations operated by EDF in Heysham. The other is due to stop generating in 2028. A safety case for the extension would need to be made to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

The reason nuclear reactors are set close down after around 40 years of operation is for safety, and if an extension is granted it will depend on the stability of the reactors’ graphite cores, which cannot be replaced if they crack. However, the company said in their statement that a recent inspection revealed that the power station’s cores are still intact.

Energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said earlier this month that in the face of Russia “weaponising” gas prices there will be an expansion of the UKs nuclear capabilities. In Liz Truss’s first speech as prime minister she promised that the government’s launch of Great British Nuclear would “[put] us on the path to deliver up to a quarter of our electricity generation with nuclear by 2050”.

EDF owns four of the eight sites identified by the government for new nuclear development. These are Hinkley Point, Sizewell, Hartlepool and Heysham. The government is currently investing, with China General Nuclear (CGN), £26 billion to construct Hinkley Point C. The  UK for three decades has not had a new nuclear power station since Sizewell B was constructed in 1995.

At Sizewell, EDF is currently hoping to secure a 20-year extension on the operational life of its Sizewell B power station, and has been given planning permission for its Sizewell C proposals – though there are still a few hurdles to get over before the final investment decision is given in 2023.

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The only UK power station that is currently still set to be operational after 2028 is Sizewell B, which will close in 2035.

In the chancellor’s fiscal statement and growth plan published last week, plans to increase ‘home-grown’ renewable energy were announced, including small modular reactors, which are smaller than conventional nuclear reactors and can be constructed in one location and shipped to the site where they will operate.

EDF has said that its review was not triggered by a request from the UK government, but added in a statement: “As an energy supplier to around 5 million UK homes, EDF is acutely aware of the energy supply crisis exacerbated by Russia’s control of gas supplies in Europe. We firmly believe that achieving net zero, ensuring long-term security of supply and reducing reliance on gas needs a firm base of new nuclear, alongside wind and solar.

“In the short-term, though, it is absolutely right that we look at how we can optimise the lifetimes of the remaining AGRs to provide secure, 24/7, zero carbon electricity and help reduce the UK’s dependence on gas.”