UK Nuclear Reactors May Receive Lifetime Extensions, Energy Minister Says

During a conference in London Tuesday, UK energy minister Charles Hendry hinted that several of the county's reactors could have their lives extended into the mid-2020's. The ageing plants had been scheduled to be shut down during the course of the next ten years - with only the Sizewell B reactor in Suffolk scheduled to continue operating and plans for 16GW of new plants at eight sites in the works - but now  the country may have to reconsider in order to cover the looming energy gap.

”By the early 2020s [almost the] whole nuclear fleet will be closed down,” Hendry said. “Some may get a lifetime extension – that is entirely possible.”

According to BusinessGreen, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) stated plants would apply for an extension when they reach the end of their scheduled lifetime. Last year, the working life of the Heysham 1 and Hartlepool reactors were extended five years to 2019.

The UK is facing a major capacity challenge in the near future, as many coal plants also are scheduled to be shut down in order to meet lowered emissions standards. Hendry said the deregulated electricity market has not produced enough capacity to effectively replace these losses. To overcome this gap, as well as deal with the predicted future increase in demand for electricity, an expensive investment into a diverse program of renewables, new nuclear, CCS and energy-efficiency measures would be needed. But according to Hendry, even then some of the current plants may still be required for several more years.  

Ultimately however, Hendry stressed the country's focus remains on new nuclear, referencing recent construction deals with France as an example that the UK is a "serious nuclear nation."  

"We can only deliver what we need to do if we get people to invest [and] we can only do that if people see this is a good market in which to operate," Hendry said. "We've shown investors we are very serious indeed about new nuclear."

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimates the UK's next-generation nuclear fleet will cost £50 billion ($78 billion). BusinessGreen says the DECC insists a policy is in place that prevents it from providing specific subsidies for new nuclear power, and will instead rely on reforms of the electricity market in favor of low carbon energy as well as a new capacity mechanism to attract developers into the sector.

The UK also faces anti-nuclear campaigns protesting the new reactors throughout the country. To coincide with the first anniversary of the tragedy at Fukushima, next month the Stop New Nuclear Alliance plans to form a human chain around the entrance of the EDF's Hinkley Point to prevent vehicles from entering the facility. The group staged a similar event in October, with 400 people showing up to protest.

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