To extend life of Hinkley Point B reactor to avoid blackout risks, experts say – The Guardian

Industry sources have warned ministers have only weeks to step in to extend the life of the Hinkley Point B nuclear power plant, as officials raised concerns about the threat of blackouts this winter.

The two reactors at the Somerset Nuclear Power Plant are set to shut down on July 8 and August 1, removing nearly gigawatts of power generation capacity from the UK system – enough to power 1.5 million homes – and as night approaches, the war is expected to affect In Ukraine heavily on electricity supply.

Experts and politicians have been discussing the possibility of extending the plant’s life by several months, but it is understood that the government has not made any formal request to its owner, EDF Energy of France, to keep the reactors open.

Industry insiders have expressed concern about the government’s lack of action to ask EDF to extend the life of the plant as it nears the end of its scheduled operations. Someone said, “They left it on until the end, and we’re not sure if that’s even possible.”

The government on Monday played down fears of blackouts later this year, after it emerged that officials had drawn up a “reasonable worst-case scenario” that could include millions of households forced to reduce their peak electricity consumption.

Downing Street insisted that the possibility of rationing was remote, with “reasonable” plans in place to ensure the lights would stay on even in the worst-case scenario. The modeling, first reported by The Times, comes as families grapple with a cost-of-living crunch driven by energy prices that are expected to jump further in the fall.

The government is striving to secure enough electricity to maintain the barriers during the winter. Last week, the business minister, Kwasi Kwarting, wrote to the national grid’s electricity system operator asking it to work with owners of coal-fired power plants that were due to close in September to extend their operating lives – despite the government’s commitment to speedy implementation. of highly polluting fuel. Hinkley Point B does not produce significant carbon emissions, although it does produce nuclear waste.

Speaking to broadcasters on Monday morning, Chris Philp, the culture secretary who does not oversee the energy industry, said Quarting was “considering whether Hinkley B, the large nuclear power plant, might continue beyond the end of its planned life as well.” He told Radio Times there would be no extension of the life of any power plant in the UK “unless safety certification is done in a very comprehensive way”.

Any decision to file an application to extend the life of Hinkley Point B would be a matter of the EDF and the regulator, a government source said, adding that the government has secured sufficient power capacity even without extending the operation of the coal or nuclear plants. .

However, industry sources familiar with the matter said it was highly likely that the EDF would request a written request from a minister before deciding to proceed with the arduous process of submitting a new safety case to the regulator, which is taking place within arm’s of an arm’s length from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). ).

“At Hinkley B, there is no technical reason why they cannot continue to operate, if they can satisfy the regulators,” said Malcolm Grimston, Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Center for Energy and Technology Policy at Imperial College London. “For the EDF, that would be primarily an economic decision.”

“All options must be explored to prevent blackouts this winter,” said Sue Ferns, deputy secretary general of the Prospect Consortium, which represents engineers including those in the nuclear industry.

“The government should require nuclear power plant operators to urgently explore safely extending the life of reactors that are due to be decommissioned in the coming months, including Hinkley Point B, which is due to be decommissioned this summer.”

A No 10 spokesperson said: “You expect the government to consider a range of scenarios to ensure the plans are robust, no matter how likely they are to pass, and neither the government nor the national grid anticipates a blackout this winter.”

Sources at BEIS also indicated that the possibility of a power outage was “highly unlikely”. EDF declined to comment.

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