The government has been heavily criticised over its reported failure to ask EDF to extend the operating life of the Hinkley Point B (HPB) nuclear power station in Somerset amid fears for the UK’s energy security.
The i newspaper has reported that Energy Minister Greg Hands has admitted he did not contact EDF Energy, which operates HPB, to explore the possibility of keeping the plant’s two reactors open beyond their current closure dates of 8th July and 1st August 2022.
Responding to a parliamentary question from Labour’s Charlotte Nichols about whether his Department wrote to EDF to request examination of the possibility of a life extension for Hinkley Point B, Mr Hands replied: “Whilst there has been parliamentary and public interest in the potential for life extensions, the Department has no formal role in these decisions.
“The Department is in regular communication with EDF and the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) but has not written regarding the extension of nuclear power stations.”
EDF Energy has reportedly sent a memo to staff on 30th May telling them that it would not delay the shutdown of HPB.
Any request to extend the life of HPB was too late, according to the memo, because it would take up to six months to compile a detailed safety case that would have to be approved by the UK’s nuclear regulator and inspections of the graphite cores of the reactors.
Sources suggest the government has no direct involvement in this process and has not made any requests of this kind regarding HPB or any other nuclear power stations.
Any extensions to operational dates for nuclear power stations are a matter of the operator of the stations, EDF and the regulator the ONR, which are based on safety considerations.
A few days ago, the head of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol said governments should keep ageing nuclear plants open to ease the energy crunch.
A government spokesperson told ELN: “Any extensions to operational dates of nuclear stations are entirely a matter for the operator and the independent regulator based on safety considerations. The government has no direct involvement in this process.
“Nuclear power stations must comply with stringent nuclear safety and security regulations, and rightly so. The type of reactors used in HPB are well over 40 years old and if they age, they will decrease in reliability due to the ageing components.”
Roy Pumfrey, the spokesperson for campaign group Stop Hinkleyasked, said: “Did the government play fast and loose with the truth with another ‘dead cat’ story about extending the life of HPB just to divert people from the truth about the energy supply crisis facing the country?
“It was irresponsible to let the idea of extending the life of a nuclear power station have any credence when it would have compromised its safety, gone against the decision of the Regulator and shoved aside the Operator’s own preference.”
ELN approached EDF for a response – the company did not respond before publication.