EDF Energy to extend generation from four nuclear power stations by up to seven years

Heysham Nuclear Power Station with electricity pylons in the foreground, as EDF Energy is to extend

Heysham Nuclear Power Station with electricity pylons in the foreground, as EDF Energy is to extend generation from four of its UK nuclear power stations by up to seven years. - Credit: PA

EDF Energy is to extend generation from four of its UK nuclear power stations by up to seven years, the company has announced.

Heysham 1 in Lancashire, and Hartlepool, due to be decommissioned in 2019, will continue for an extra five years.

Heysham 2 and Torness in Scotland will have extensions of seven years to 2030.

The French firm is planning to build a new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point in Somerset but is still to make a final investment decision.

EDF said the decision followed “extensive technical and safety reviews”.

“Our continuing investment, our expertise and the professional relationship we have with the safety regulator means we can safely prolong the operating life of our nuclear power stations,” said chief executive Vincent de Rivaz.

“Their excellent output shows that reliability is improving whilst their safety and environmental performance is higher than ever.”

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The four nuclear plants employ more than 2,000 permanent staff and 1,000 contractors.

EDF has agreed a deal in principle for the £18bn Hinkley project under which China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) will pay a third of the cost.

Reports have suggested the company is struggling to find the cash for its stake.

Greenpeace has said the delay means it is not certain that the final go ahead will be given. The campaign group said the project faces “unprecedented opposition” from EDF’s management and French unions over costs.

The four nuclear plants which will generate power for longer, supply electricity to around a quarter of the UK’s homes.

Mr de Rivaz added: “In today’s extremely challenging market conditions, our belief that government policy will be maintained and strengthened gives us the confidence to invest in our nuclear stations. This gives customers the best value low carbon electricity available.

“It’s a great achievement by thousands of EDF Energy staff and partners in the supply chain who have worked so hard to show that we can deliver on performance, reliability and safety.”

EDF said it was committed to being the UK’s leading investor in low carbon electricity, adding in a statement: “That means safely extending the lives of existing nuclear power stations and investing in renewable wind energy.

“It also means making the big investments necessary to launch a renaissance in nuclear new build at Hinkley Point in Somerset.”

The statement continued: “Further major progress was made in 2015 on plans to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset, notably with the signing of the Strategic Investment Agreement between EDF and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) in October.

“Hinkley Point C is a strong project which is fully ready for a final investment decision and successful construction. Final steps are well in hand to enable the full construction phase to be launched very soon.”

Last night, Greenpeace projected a huge picture of Chancellor George Osborne wearing a hard hat sporting the EDF logo on to the House of Commons and the Treasury, with the words “Let it go, George everyone else has £LetHinkleyGo”.

Greenpeace policy director Doug Parr said: “EDF’s accounts show growing debts and falling earnings. EDF management and employees warn taking on further risk could easily spell disaster for the company. Hinkley is a bad investment and most people with an ounce of financial acumen have now come to realise this.

“George Osborne stands alone in defending Hinkley’s honour. He needs to let Hinkley go - everyone else has. The nuclear industry has usually promised far more than it has delivered and the debacle over the Hinkley reactor shows little has changed.

“Hinkley will be one of the most expensive objects on earth and George Osborne is happy to force this year’s school leavers to pay over the odds for it until they are about to draw their pensions. But wind and solar power could be subsidy-free well before Hinkley could ever come on stream.”

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “The UK government owned Central Electricity Generating Board that built the UK nuclear power stations EDF are extending.

“We welcome this extension to give more base load electricity capacity while Hinkley Point C is brought on stream.

“It is inconceivable that the Hinkley Point C site should become the most expensive landscaped grounds in the UK if work is stopped and the project does not go ahead.

“If the plan to finance the building of this station by the French and Chinese governments is no longer viable then the UK government has total responsibility to the people of this country to build the power stations needed to supply our electricity needs.

“The supply chain is in place and the labour force is coming on stream to construct this station essential to keep the lights on in the UK.

“The UK government can no longer outsource the building of our power stations to foreign governments.

“The UK built the first generation of nuclear power stations so we can build the new generation we need for low carbon reliable base load electricity. “

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “EDF have announced the life extension for Torness because they are trying to distract attention from their terrible financial performance and their repeated failure to make a final decision on whether to build the Hinkley Point reactors in Somerset.

“Nuclear power is on its last legs in Europe and Hinkley will probably never get built. The UK Government needs to refocus on energy efficiency and renewables instead of continuing to chase the nuclear dream.”