The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today a detailed report outlining the challenging problems besetting EDF’s existing Advanced Gas Reactor (AGR) nuclear power plants like Hunterston and Hinkley Point B and argues that the entire AGR fleet is likely to close considerably earlier than the operator or the UK Government would like. (1) This leaves real questions as to future UK energy policy requiring an even greater move towards decentralised and renewable energy alternatives.
At present, EDF’s existing nuclear fleet of Advanced Gas Reactors covers reactors at Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B, Hartlepool, Heysham, Dungeness and Torness. All are due to end operations between 2023 and 2030, leaving just Sizewell B, a Pressurised Water Reactor, in operation.
EDF is hoping to replace some of these reactors with new European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) at Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, and a hybrid version of the EPR being developed by the Chinese General Nuclear Corporate for Bradwell B in Essex.
The NFLA briefing outlines in detail the background behind the serious and multifarious technical challenges EDF is dealing with in maintaining operation with its AGR fleet, particularly the Hunterston and Hinkley Point B reactors, which are both now 44 years old. The problems they are encountering though are also being seen in newer reactors like at Heysham and even Torness, which suggest they may not be able to operate for as long as EDF want them to do.
The NFLA Policy Briefing makes the following observations of EDF’s AGR fleet:
- Both reactors at Hunterston B are currently closed and EDF are awaiting a decision from the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) about restarting them temporarily. They are beset with hundreds of keyway route cracks in the graphite bricks that surround the reactors. EDF did not put the reactors in the recent capacity market auction and have sought planning permission for an intermediate level waste store on the site. This suggests to the NFLA that the reactors will be closed down much earlier than the planned 2023 date. NFLA believe, given the many technical issues besetting these reactors, that they should be closed forthwith.
- The two reactors at Hinkley Point B are arguably also on ‘borrowed time’ and are also due to shut for good in 2023. Although Hinkley Point B entered into the capacity market auction “it exited above the clearing price and therefore did not get an agreement. The revenues at the clearing price did not provide sufficient reward to take on the risk of penalties arising from non-delivery”. The reactors are currently closed and not due to open until the end of the year. NFLA also believe these reactors should be closed forthwith for similar reasons to Hunterston.
- Hartlepool and Heysham A AGRs are both due to shut-down in 2024. Although they were entered into the capacity market auction for October 2023 to September 2024 and EDF says “we are confident they will operate to their scheduled closure date of 2024, they exited above the clearing price and therefore did not secure agreements. The revenues at the clearing price did not provide sufficient reward to take on the risk of penalties arising from non-delivery.” NFLA believes both reactors will close down considerably earlier than 2024.
- On 27th August 2018 EDF at Dungeness B shut down Reactor 22 for its planned statutory outage. On 23rd September 2018 Reactor 21 was also shut down for the planned double reactor outage. Both reactors have been shut since. The regular inspections on the reactors in Kent in late summer 2018 identified the need for repairs on steam pipes. The inspections showed that seismic restraints, pipework and storage vessels associated with several systems providing a safety function were found to be “corroded to an unacceptable condition” according to ONR. The boiler design at Dungeness was “very different” to the other AGRs and probably would be the life-limiting factor for the plant. However, EDF says the issues are “manageable” and that the company aimed to present a safety case shortly to seek to restart in September.
- The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) published its Project Assessment Report which allows Torness and Heysham B to continue operating for the period 2020 – 2030. ‘The Ferret’ website reported that cracks in the graphite core are now expected to start appearing six years sooner than previously thought. ONR said that the cracking could cause debris to inhibit vital cooling of highly radioactive reactor fuel beginning as soon as 2022 rather than 2028. It said Torness and Heysham B will be able to keep operating until 2030 – but only if inspections to check for cracks are intensified.
NFLA believe for public safety reasons it would be appropriate not to restart the Hunterston and Hinkley B reactors. NFLA also believe it would also be sensible to phase out the other AGR’s as quickly as practical. This needs to be mindful of a ‘Just Transition’ programme (2) to help the workers move into new job areas, including a support for accelerated decommissioning of the plants. A much more ambitious energy plan that includes greater concentration on a decentralised energy efficiency programme and a move towards a 100% renewable energy system needs to be adopted across the UK.
NFLA Scotland Convener, Councillor Feargal Dalton, said:
“This detailed and thorough NFLA report highlights the growing technical problems and challenges that EDF has in maintaining its aging AGR fleet. Given the substantial level of keyway route cracks with the Hunterston reactors, it now seems to be prudent for EDF to close these reactors. It is imperative for the Scottish Government to assist the communities around Hunterston and follow up on the recommendations of the Just Transition Commission. Hunterston should also be the first Scottish site to go through an accelerated decommissioning programme that could transfer many of the jobs from electricity generation to dealing with the nuclear legacy.”
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“I commend this report and encourage councillors and those interested in the future of the remaining AGR reactors to read it. Like with Hunterston, it also appears prudent for public safety reasons to consider the early closure of the Hinkley Point B site given a similar age and an increasing level of keyway route cracks in the graphite bricks. These issues also suggest earlier closures of the Heysham, Hartlepool, Dungeness and Torness reactors than originally planned as well. NFLA urges the UK Government in particular to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions. There is ample evidence these can be delivered quickly and in the quantity that is required for future energy policy. It is time to move from nuclear and focus on renewables.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(2) NFLA Policy Briefing 184, January 2019, ‘Closure of Hunterston B – a Just Transition and Local Energy Supply’, https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/A297_NB184_Hunterston_Just_Transition.pdf