Energy giant EDF has announced it will extend the expected operating life of two of its nuclear power stations by a further seven years.
Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B power stations are now expected to remain operational until at least 2023, generating enough low carbon electricity for around two million homes.
The decision follows the five year extensions to Heysham 1 and Hartlepool announced in 2010 and come after extensive reviews of the plants’ safety cases and continuing work with the independent nuclear regulator.
According to EDF, extending the life of the stations is good news for more than 1500 employees and contractors at the two plants in Somerset and North Ayrshire. It will help maintain skills in the UK nuclear industry, and give the UK secure energy at a time when much generating capacity is due to close.
The announcement was made as EDF Energy CEO Vincent de Rivaz re-opened the Visitor Centre for Hinkley Point B in nearby Bridgwater – part of an initiative to make the nuclear industry more open and accessible for local communities.
He said: "This decision will provide low carbon energy to keep the lights on in the UK and it will safeguard jobs at the plants, in the UK nuclear industry and its supply chain. It follows a thorough review of safety over the lifetime of each of the plants.
"We continue to invest £300 million each year on capital expenditure in the nuclear fleet, and we spend an additional £350 million on plant operations with 90 per cent of the total being spent in the UK. Extending the plants’ lives also brings significant training and employment opportunities for a new generation of nuclear engineers and operators as we seek to develop the UK’s position as a primary source for skills and expertise in the industry.
"Life extension does not replace the need for new low carbon generation. Even as we agree to extend the life of our existing plants, we are moving forward with plans to create the next generation of nuclear power stations."
Energy Minister John Hayes welcomed today's announcement and said: “It is absolutely fantastic news for our energy security that these two nuclear power stations will continue generating vast amounts of electricity into the 2020s.
“This decision will also secure hundreds of skilled jobs in both Somerset and North Ayrshire, highlighting the value of nuclear energy to our economy and society.”
Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B employ 73 apprentices, with around 20 new apprentices joining the scheme each year. This programme will continue throughout the extended lives of both stations. 1,500 plus people are employed at Hunterston and Hinkley, including 200 full-time contract staff at each site.
EDF Energy expects an average of seven-year life extensions across all its Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor stations and a 20-year extension for Sizewell B, the only Pressurised Water Reactor in the UK. This would increase the amount of CO2 avoided by 340 million tonnes. This is equivalent to removing all the cars from UK roads for nearly five years.
Alongside the life extension announcement, EDF Energy has today also re-opened its visitor centre for Hinkley Point B in nearby Bridgwater town centre. The centre will give local people and others the opportunity to see for themselves how the station operates.
"We have always committed to operating openly and transparently," Mr de Rivaz said. "Following the events at Fukushima, The Chief Nuclear Inspector recommended that the nuclear industry look at ways to ensure more trusted, open and transparent relationships with the public and other stakeholders. We pledged to implement his recommendations in full and the decision to reopen this visitor centre is proof of our commitment."
Historically, Hinkley has always had the strongest community recognition amongst our power stations. Over 1,000 visitors have already visited the Station this year and this is set to continue.
Recent polling conducted by EDF Energy shows that 74% of Somerset people agree that nuclear is a necessary part of the energy balance, which it says is significantly above the national average of 66%.