The owner of one of the UK’s six nuclear power plants has said he will not extend his life after a planned shutdown in the summer, despite officials expressing concern about the danger of power outages in the coming months.
French EDF Energy on Monday sent staff a note saying it would not delay the closure of two reactors at Hinckley Point B in Somerset, which are scheduled to close on July 8 and August 1.
The plant will close remove nearly a gigawatt of electricity generation Britain’s system capacity – enough to provide 1.5 million homes – ahead of the winter, which is expected to have a major impact on Ukraine’s electricity supply.
The government downplayed fears of power outages later this year after officials found they had simulated a “smart worst case scenario” that could include millions of households that will be forced to limit electricity consumption during peak hours.
This simulation, first reported by the Times, included an option to expand the Hinckley-B item, which experts and politicians have been discussing for months. But it is clear that the government has not made a formal request to EDF to keep the reactors open.
The government is trying to provide enough electricity to maintain buffers in the winter as households struggle with the cost of living crisis caused by energy prices, which are expected to rise in the fall.
Last week, Business Secretary Kwasi Quarteng wrote to the National Grid’s power system operator asking to work with the owners of the coal-fired power plants, which were due to close in September to extend their life. This happened despite the government’s commitment to quickly abandon fuel that is highly polluting.
Chris Philpp, culture minister who does not control the energy industry, told Times Radio on Monday morning that Quarteng was considering whether Hinckley Point B could continue its “planned end of life”.
But later that day, EDF wrote to staff: “Although it is technically possible to extend the operation [at the nuclear plant] for up to six months, the time needed to do so and to be sure that we will be ready for winter operation is over. ”
A note published by the Financial Times added that the extension would include drawing up a detailed safety case to be approved by the UK’s nuclear regulator.
A source in the government said any decision to apply for an extension would be a matter for the EDF and the regulator, adding that the government had provided sufficient capacity without even extending the operation of the coal or nuclear power plant.
However, industry sources familiar with the matter said it was very likely that EDF would require a written request from the minister before deciding to go through the time-consuming process of submitting a new safety case to the regulator at arm’s length from the minister. Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
“On Hinkley B there are no technical reasons why it cannot continue to operate if they can satisfy regulators. For EDF, it will be a fundamentally economic solution, ”said Malcolm Grimston, Honorary Senior Fellow of the Center for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College London.
Insiders in the sector have expressed concern about the lack of time left for the government to take any action, with one saying: “They left it until the very end and we are not sure if it is possible.”
Sue Ferns, senior deputy secretary general of the Prospect union, which represents engineers, including those working in the nuclear industry, said: “We need to explore all options to prevent power outages this winter.
“The government should ask nuclear operators to urgently explore the possibility of safely extending the life of reactors to be decommissioned in the coming months, including Hinckley B, which is otherwise due to go out of service this summer.”
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “Neither the government nor the National Network expects a power outage this winter.” Sources in BEIS also suggested that the prospect of power outages was “very unlikely.” EDF declined to comment.
A government spokesman said: “Any extensions to the operation of nuclear power plants in the UK are the work of the station operator, EDF and the regulator of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, which are based on safety considerations.
“The government is not directly involved in this process and has not made any requests of this kind.”