Hinkley Point B set for closure as winter crisis looms
Hinkley Point B is set to close next week, leaving the UK with only five operating nuclear power stations this winter – putting more pressure on the UK’s electricity supplies ahead of the coldest months of the year.
The power plant will stop generating at 10am tomorrow morning, 46 years after it first sent power to the grid.
The 1.1GW Somerset-based power plant is owned and run by EDF and is capable of producing enough energy for about 1.7m homes a year.
However, its being shut down due to age, with hairline cracks appearing in its graphite bricks.
The closure has been long planned, but comes at a time of heightened concern over energy security as Russia restricts flows of gas into Europe.
Last week, the National Grid’s electricity system operator (NGESO) revealed it expects to keep the lights on this winter with plenty of supplies reserve, however its forecast was based on being able to draw heavily on power supplies from Europe.
Reflecting the difficulties facing the domestic energy grid, the two-day heatwave, NGESO paid an all-time high of £9,724 per MWh last Wednesday to import power from Belgium.
Tight supplies and fires in East London jeopardising the energy network meant the UK was scrambling to secure supplies to stave off power outages.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has asked coal-fired power stations to stay open longer than planned to provide back-up supplies this winter.
This has been agreed with coal plants owned by Drax and EDF.
However, attempts to extend the lifespan of Hinkley Point B were knocked back the energy company.
EDF argued it was by then too late to try and keep it open for winter, given the detailed safety case required.
Worst-case modelling in Whitehall has shown up to six million British homes could face blackouts if Russia continues to strangle supplies to Europe.
Currently, nuclear power supplies about 19 per cent of Britain’s electricity over the year, but this is set to fall with four of the other five remaining plants preparing to close this decade.
Departing Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a “big new bet” on nuclear power – with Downing Street targeting the approval of eight new reactors this decade.
As part of the supply security strategy – the Government is aiming to ramp up nuclear power from 7GW to 24GW over the next three decades.
EDF is building a new replacement plant, Hinkley Point C, which is running a year and a half late and is not set to come online until June 2027.
It is also in talks with the Government about a second new plant, Sizewell C in Suffolk – which was finally granted development consent earlier this month.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Hinkley Point B is the most productive clean power asset in British history. No other station has saved more CO2 emissions and made a bigger contribution to fighting climate change. It has been a bastion of energy security for over four and half decades and its retirement is a stark reminder that we urgently need to replace our existing capacity.”
A Government spokesperson added: “Any extensions to operational dates of nuclear stations is entirely a matter for the operator and the independent regulator based on safety considerations. The Government has no direct involvement in this process.”
EDF has also been approached for comment.