EDF is considering extending the life of two UK nuclear power stations due to the severity of the energy crisis.
EDF said on Wednesday it would consider whether there was a case to keep Hartlepool nuclear power station open in County Durham and Heysham 1 on the northwest coast of England near Lancaster. Both factories were due to close in March 2024.
EDF operates all eight UK nuclear power stations, five of which still supply electricity to the grid, representing around 13% of the UK’s electricity. The entire fleet is expected to close by 2028 with the exception of Sizewell B, which will close in 2035.
When EDF took over the nuclear fleet in 2009, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool were due to operate until 2014. After technical reviews this was extended to 2019 and then in 2016 a further five year extension was approved after further new exams.
Sources said any additional station lifetimes would likely be much shorter than previous extensions. The stations – which produce 2.2 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 3.5 million homes – have been operational for four decades.
EDF said it 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 caused turmoil in energy markets and pushed up gas and electricity prices. It has also caused an international rush for gas supplies and raised concerns about potential blackouts this winter.
The government has moved to boost energy supply in winter, signing deals to keep coal-fired power stations in Yorkshire and the East Midlands on standby, including EDF’s West Burton A power station in Nottinghamshire.
Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “The government has had no choice but to retain these factories for the longer term. He points out that we need a long-term plan for energy production. We are a decade behind nuclear and if we don’t act fast enough, we will miss the boat on other fuels, such as hydrogen. The government must give people the confidence to invest.
Some power generation companies, including those under nuclear, solar and wind contracts, have landed an unexpected windfall as electricity prices soared despite their costs not rising, sparking calls for a tax exceptional.
EDF said its nuclear fleet would produce 42 terawatt hours of electricity 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 20% of the nuclear fleet alongside EDF, wanted to renegotiate its electricity production contracts.
Tom Burke, co-founder of green think tank E3G, said: “In today’s climate, this makes a lot of sense. [to extend the plants’ lifespans]. The question is mostly about cost: is the extra time you buy worth the cost of keeping it safe? The Office for Nuclear Regulation won’t play it quick and easy with safety, so it depends on the spending. With electricity prices where they are now, that probably makes sense.
EDF said it plans to invest £1billion in the nuclear fleet from 2023 to 2025. The debt-ridden firm, which is fully nationalized by the French government, is developing the delayed and overbudget Hinkley Point C project in Somerset .
He 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 term as Prime Minister.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Making the most of our existing nuclear power stations is key to ensuring Britain has a secure supply of electricity in the future.”
Labor leader Keir Starmer pledged on Tuesday to launch Great British Energy, a public energy company powered by clean electricity in the UK, if elected.