EDF today announced that the Hunterston B nuclear power station in Scotland would begin decommissioning in January 2022 at the latest.
The plant, which began generating electricity in 1976, provides enough power to run 1.7m homes.
It had been expected that the plant would continue to operate until March 2023, but EDF said it had taken the decision due to the age of the power station.
“Given the age of the station and the desire to provide clarity for our staff, the community and business partners, EDF has decided that Hunterston B will move into the defuelling phase no later than 7 January 2022”, the French energy giant said in a statement.
“This is subject to a further inspection in spring 2021 and then regulatory approval for a final six months of operation.”
EDF employs 500 staff at the plant, along with 200 contractors. The firm said it was already in discussions with workers about their future.
Today’s announcement came as the French firm said that the plant would begin generating power again after a two-year inspection.
A number of cracks had appeared in the plant’s reactors, as is common with age.
Another closure knocks UK nuclear power
The Hunterston plant, which is in Ayrshire in the south-west of Scotland, is one of just eight nuclear power plants in the UK.
Between them, they currently supply 20 per cent of the country’s power, but four of them are due to shut by 2024.
The decision is likely to increase the focus on EDF’s new developments at Sizewell C and Bradwell B in Suffolk and Essex respectively.
Both projects are likely to prove controversial due to the involvement of state-owned China General Nuclear, which owns a stakes in both projects.
Bradwell B especially could present a challenge to the government, as the project will see CGN design and build its own nuclear reactor model, unlike at Sizewell C, which will use EDF’s technology.
After the government’s decision to ban fellow Chinese firm Huawei from involvement in the UK’s 5G networks, many have suggested that the country’s role in the UK’s nuclear industry could be the next to fall under scrutiny.
MPs including Iain Duncan Smith and Bernard Jenkin have already raised concerns about the scope of CGN’s role in Bradwell B.
However, with nuclear power seen by many as key to achieving the UK’s net zero ambitions, sector body the Nuclear Industry Association warned that more investment into the technology was crucial.
“With Hunterston’s move to decommissioned confirmed for January 2022, the urgency of the need to invest in new capacity to provide secure, reliable and always available low carbon power is clear.
“Without new nuclear power, the UK cannot meet its net zero target”, it said.