New Sizewell B boss bids to extend power station’s life by 20 years
- Credit: EDF Energy
The new station director of Sizewell B has set his sights on extending its lifespan by 20 years – arguing it is crucial to meeting the country’s electricity needs.
Even if the proposed Sizewell C is built next door, Robert Gunn says keeping the B station open beyond its planned 40-year life will be an important part of the energy mix – as the need for electricity continues to soar.
Mr Gunn has been in the post since October after transferring from Torness power station in Scotland, where he worked for 29 years and ended up as station director.
With the last of his three children due to start university in the near future, moving to Suffolk offered the chance to enjoy the county’s rural delights - while also taking charge of one of the country’s most important stations.
The chartered physicist and engineer - who has a first-class honours degree in physics with management studies, as well as a post-graduate degree with distinction in engineering and project management - said working closely with the Sizewell C project is one of his priorities.
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However, he and his colleagues are “working on an extension programme for the station”.
Mr Gunn said the plan to extend Sizewell B’s lifespan to 2055 was in its “early stages”, with staff “seeing if it’s a safe thing to do and if there is a business case to do it”.
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That will involve assessing all of the components of the 25-year-old power station to see whether components can safely be maintained or renewed – and whether it is cost-effective to do so.
Those include the pressurised water reactor (PWR), which creates nuclear energy by splitting atoms, and the two giant turbines which take that energy to create electricity.
“We’ve already been operating for 25 very successful years, so it makes sense to operate for longer if possible,” he said.
“Around the world, many power stations with this type of design have gone through that life extension programme, so we’re not the first.
“We want to be ambitious for the station.”
However, there will be no imminent final decision on the move, with Sizewell B’s current lifespan not set to expire until 2035.
While Mr Gunn said renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are “fantastic, low carbon and part of the energy mix”, he believes nuclear power is currently a more reliable source.
“I don’t see the country as being completely nuclear, but I don’t see it as being completely renewable either,” he said.
“Regardless of the weather conditions, we will be providing power all the time.”
He summarised the benefits of the energy a nuclear power station like Sizewell B provides as being “low carbon, reliable, 24/7” - although opponents believe more investment should be put into improving renewable energy technology.
Another key part of Mr Gunn’s job is ensuring Sizewell B is safe, with television series like Chernobyl meaning fears of a nuclear accident are never far from people’s minds.
As the person ultimately in charge of safety, Mr Gunn said: “We can’t be complacent, ever.”
He said continuously monitoring equipment to ensure it is safe and having “high-quality people” would also minimise the potential for accidents.
However, he pointed to the station’s track record of never having any significant incidents, plus the strict regulations which govern the operation of nuclear power stations.
“It is our track record and highly-skilled people that will give people confidence – but we have to work hard every time to make sure we maintain that.”
Mr Gunn is also said he wants to “make sure there are long-term career opportunities for the area”.
That is not just by taking on new apprentices, but ensuring new starters can progress within EDF and perhaps even aspire to his job in the future.
One example of that Adam Anderson, who was recently promoted to plant manager at Sizewell B – effectively Mr Gunn’s deputy.
Mr Anderson began working at Sizewell B during its construction and has “demonstrated high standards of leadership” during his career, Mr Gunn recently said in an email to staff.
Mr Gunn added that he had been especially proud of the way staff the 550 staff and 250 contractors had coped during coronavirus, changing their working practices to ensure they could keep electricity flowing in Suffolk throughout the pandemic.