EDF is to close its Hunterston B nuclear power plant in 2021, two years earlier than planned.
The plant was taken offline in 2018 due to cracking in its graphite reactor core. It has not generated electricity since, however EDF has now received regulatory approval to start generating again using one of its reactors.
This follows an inspection and investment programme to prove the station could withstand a range of earthquake scenarios, EDF said.
However, “given the age of the station” alongside EDF’s desire to “provide clarity for our staff”, the plant is to close by January 2022, subject to a further inspect in Spring 2021 and regulatory approval for the final 6 months of operation.
It was due to close in 2023 after EDF extended its life in 2012, pushing the closure date back from 2016.
There are around 500 full time staff and 200 contractors on site, with EDF already talking to staff "about where they see their futures".
The company said that some will choose to retire over the next couple of years, but that it is also looking at how it supports people to stay with the company at Hunterston B or another site, or move into another job or training.
“Today’s announcement underlines the urgent need for investment in new, low carbon nuclear power to help Britain achieve net zero and secure the future for its nuclear industry, supply chain and workers,” Simone Rossi, EDF’s UK CEO, said.
EDF’s Hinkley Point B has also seen a stint offline due to the same cracking although it is currently generating with no plans for early closure.
A report released by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in 2019 found that the early closure of plants like Hinkley and Hunterston due to cracks – alongside delays to construction of plants such as Sizewell C – could leave a power gap, particularly as there is potential for other plants in the UK’s fleet to develop similar cracking, with a greater deployment of renewables the most cost effective way of plugging that gap.
In particular, a mix of renewable technologies would be best for this as they would provide the most consistent supply over increasing deployment of only one type, however flexible technologies such as battery storage and demand side response would also need greater deployment.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said that whilst nuclear plants not lasting forever “should not surprise anyone” what would be a surprise “would be power sector emissions increasing again were this clean power gap not filled with low-carbon electricity”.
"Setting ambitious targets for onshore wind and solar, as seen for offshore wind, would ensure that there is more than enough clean energy to power our lives.
“While a decision on nuclear power funding is expected in the upcoming Energy White Paper, for now the clear answer is to crack on with the solutions that can be delivered reliably, rapidly and at rock-bottom costs,” he said.