The government’s energy policy is under renewed pressure after the prolonged closure of one of Britain’s oldest nuclear reactors because of cracks in its graphite core raised questions over the future of six other plants built in the 1970s and 1980s. The temporary shutdown of reactor three at Hunterston B in Scotland is also expected to burn an estimated £120m hole in the revenues of its owner, EDF Energy. The firm said this week that it was taking the reactor offline for six months after inspections revealed more cracks than expected. Safety fears have been quashed, but the potential impact on wider energy strategy has alarmed experts who say the reactor may never be restarted. Peter Atherton, an analyst at the consultancy Cornwall Insight, said: “Let’s say worst-case scenario they found a big graphite core problem and Hunterston never comes back on. That would be a big hole in the plan [for electricity supplies]. The gas-fired power stations, we’ve probably got enough of them, but it would be pretty tight. It would also be a knock-back to carbon targets. You could build more windfarms, but that would take time.” Experts estimate the 40% cut in the power station’s output – it normally supplies enough electricity for 1.8m homes – will cost the French state-owned firm £100m-120m in lost revenue. That is small compared with the impact of temporary safety closures at EDF’s French plants, which led profits to fall 16% last year, but it is still a blow the company could do without as it ramps up construction of the £20bn Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset. EDF will not be the only energy company affected by the outage. Deepa Venkateswaran, an analyst at Bernstein bank, said she thought it would also hurt the price British Gas’s parent company, Centrica, would fetch for its stake in the plants. Centrica recently said it hoped to sell its 20% share by 2020. So far, significant cracks have only been found at reactors three and four at Hunterston B. Hinkley Point B, which came online in the same year as Hunterston, is offline to carry out checks for cracks, which will be completed in three to four weeks. “The one that will be worrying them is Hinkley [Point B],” said John Large, a nuclear consultant who has advised the UK government. Hinkley Point has not only become an industry showcase for why new nuclear reactors should be built in the UK, but the old power station is providing electricity for the 3,500-strong workforce constructing the new plant. EDF maintains that the prospect of more old reactors having a sustained outage is highly unlikely, but experts said it would pose a significant challenge to power supplies if they did.
Guardian 6th May 2018 read more »