EDF’s announcement last week that it was closing the Dungeness B nuclear plant in Kent seven years early

Posted: 14th June 2021

Reactor Closure


 EDF’s announcement last week that it was closing the Dungeness B nuclear
plant in Kent seven years early punched an unwelcome hole in Britain’s
low-carbon power supplies. Now, The Times can reveal that further such
blows are likely to follow as EDF admits that two other plants are also at
risk of early closure. The French energy giant is bracing for safety issues
at Torness in Scotland and Heysham 2 near Lancaster that could force both
to shut years before their planned 2030 closure dates. The disclosure
shines a spotlight on the failing health of the nuclear fleet, raises
questions about Britain’s ability to keep decarbonising electricity
supplies this decade and adds renewed impetus to the debate over new
nuclear plants. The new-build programme has faltered with only Hinkley
Point C under construction, and that delayed until 2026. Now it is proving
unattainable to extend the life of some of the old plants. EDF has already
announced that Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B, the first two AGR plants
to open in 1976, will shut by next year rather than 2023 as planned because
of cracking in the graphite cores that has already caused prolonged safety
outages. How long can the other four AGR plants last? That depends on when
cracks in the graphite cores emerge, as they did at Hinkley and Hunterston.
EDF has ploughed £200 million into studying that issue to establish what
level of cracking can be tolerated safely. Another two plants, Heysham 1
and Hartlepool, are expected to start cracking soon and are due to shut by
March 2024 — although Richard Bradfield, chief technical officer at EDF
said EDF was “reviewing the possibility” it could run them slightly
longer if they did not develop cracks by 2023. The two newest AGR plants,
Torness and Heysham 2, are not due to shut down until 2030, but Bradfield
warned that the likelihood of cracking meant “it could be earlier”.
They have already generated almost as much power in running for 33 years as
Hinkley and Hunterston have in 45 years. “That’s important because
it’s the irradiation or the amount of electricity that’s generated that
effectively is the input to when the graphite cores will start cracking,”
he said. When cracks emerge, the plants will have only three or four years
left. EDF is bracing to see cracks soon and “the probability will
increase over the next few years”. However Martin Young, analyst at
Investec, said that a looming low-carbon power gap may favour developers of
rival low-carbon technologies or storage solutions that may be quicker to
build. He said: “Whatever you may think about new nuclear — and it’s
clear that the industry has not shown it can deliver new-build on time and
at a competitive price — we are not going to be getting a new nuke [over
and above Hinkley Point C] any time soon.”

 Times 14th June 2021


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