Nuclear power advocates consider power minister Kwasi Kwarteng is open to extending the lifetime of the Hinkley Point B plant to assist wean the UK off gasoline imports and forestall a faster-than-expected decline in Britain’s fleet of atomic reactors.
Soaring gasoline costs and the conflict in Ukraine have already spurred the federal government to ask coal power plant owners to stay open longer, whereas ministers additionally revisited their staunch opposition to fracking within the gentle of power provide issues.
There is a rising feeling within the nuclear trade and its supporters that Kwarteng could additionally be persuaded to again an extension of as much as 18 months to the lifetime of Hinkley Point B, which is because of cease producing electrical energy this summer season.
Such a plan, which might chime with Boris Johnson’s backing for new nuclear in the recent energy security plan, would maintain 1GW of electrical energy technology on the National Grid within the brief time period, changing the necessity for gas-fired technology for as much as 1.5m properties.
Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, whose Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency contains Hinkley, stated he had spoken to Kwarteng in regards to the risk and that he was “definitely” open to it. “Kwasi is no fool,” he stated.
“He understands the stresses and strains we’re going through and that we need to look at everything we can. They are fully aware of what the [Hinkley] B station is capable of. She’s old but she’s in good health.”
Hinkley’s proprietor, EDF Energy, must produce a security case for extending the lifetime of a power station that was hooked as much as the grid in 1976 and whose closure was beforehand postponed by seven years in 2012.
EDF must show to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) that the ageing graphite rods within the plant’s reactors could be inserted, even within the occasion of an enormous and unprecedented earthquake, to stop a nuclear accident.
One nuclear trade supply stated there was a “six-week window” left, throughout which EDF could nonetheless make that case in time for the ONR to provide a verdict on the security of the plans and postpone the scheduled finish to Hinkley producing electrical energy on 15 July.
Greg Hands, a junior minister in Kwarteng’s enterprise, power and industrial technique (BEIS) division, visited Hinkley final week. Engineers there are understood to have instructed Hands that they anticipated the plant to close as scheduled.
But the nuclear trade supply stated that whereas engineers had been naturally centered on shutdown plans they’d been working in direction of for a lot of months, senior figures at EDF had been prone to be extra open to extending Hinkley’s life.
The ONR would finally determine on whether or not such a plan could go forward however Kwarteng’s approval is essential. This is as a result of EDF would incur important prices to place collectively a security case for an extension and would want to be assured that ministers wouldn’t block it.
EDF declined to touch upon whether or not it was planning to take action. BEIS stated it had not held any discussions about such a proposal. “It [extending Hinkley] would stop you having to import a chunk of gas,” stated the nuclear trade supply.
The Guardian additionally understands that Torness, close to Dunbar, and Heysham 2 in Lancashire could come off grid sooner than anticipated, relying on common assessments of the state of their graphite rods.
Their retirement has already been introduced ahead, with EDF saying earlier this yr that they’d cease producing in 2028, reasonably than 2030. In concept, every station that operates for a yr can change greater than 1bn cubic metres of gasoline imports.
While nuclear power is historically costly, the sky-high worth of gasoline in current months, exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, means the £45 per megawatt hour that EDF will get from its nuclear contract is considerably beneath wholesale market power costs.
Trade unions Prospect and the GMB have additionally referred to as for the lifetime of Britain’s nuclear fleet to be prolonged.
Pressure on Kwarteng to sign to EDF that the federal government would again plans to maintain Hinkley Point B open comes in opposition to the backdrop of concern that the capability of Britain’s nuclear fleet could be declining even quicker than thought.
Based on present projections for the retirement of reactors and the constructing of recent ones, UK nuclear capability will fall from 5.8GW right now to 4.4GW in 2028, factoring within the development of Hinkley Point C but in addition the top of lifetime of Torness and Heysham.
However, the 2028 completion date for Hinkley Point C, which is already over funds and not on time is underneath overview, with a forecast due this summer season.