Cracks in reactor’s graphite core leads to decision to begin process no later than July 2022
Jillian Ambrose www.theguardian.com
Hinkley Point B and Hinkley Point A nuclear power stations in Somerset. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
EDF Energy has confirmed it will begin shutting down the 45-year-old reactors at Hinkley Point B nuclear power plant in Somerset within the next two years, earlier than scheduled.
The “defuelling” will begin no later than July 2022, according to the French energy group.
The shutdown was scheduled for 2023, but cracks were discovered in the graphite core of the reactor.
Matt Sykes, the managing director of EDF Generation, said an inspection of Hinkley Point B’s graphite blocks revealed they were “in exactly the sort of condition” expected after 40 years of generating electricity.
The power plant, which has been Britain’s most productive and whose operational life was extended, is offline for further inspections and is scheduled to return to service next year, pending approval from Britain’s nuclear safety watchdog.
“As a responsible operator we feel it is now the right thing to do to give clarity to our staff, partners and community about the future life of the station,” Sykes said.
Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), said the Hinkley Point B shutdown was “a reminder of the urgency of investing in new nuclear capacity to hit net zero”.
EDF had expected the shutdown to take place after the start-up of Hinkley Point C, the first new nuclear power plant being built in the UK in a generation, which was originally due to begin generating electricity “well before 2020”.
However, the scheduled start date has been delayed to between 2025 and 2026 owing to slow progress in agreeing with the government a guaranteed price for the electricity produced.
Greatrex said: “Hinkley Point B has produced more clean electricity and saved more emissions, 105m tonnes, than any other single power station in British history. It can only be replaced by new nuclear stations that produce the same reliable, always-on, emissions-free power that Hinkley has provided for more than 40 years.”
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Boris Johnson’s 10-point climate plan, which was revealed on Tuesday, promised to advance large-scale nuclear projects and the developments of so-called “mini nuclear reactors” with a £525m support package.
But the plan failed to give the greenlight to EDF Energy’s planned followup to the Hinkley Point C project at the Sizewell site, which the firm hopes to build alongside a Chinese nuclear company.
The NIA said it hoped the government provided a clear path towards new nuclear capacity in an energy white paper, which is expected before Christmas.