UK Nuclear Fleet Strategy Update - September 2021
Nuclear power has been quietly supplying up to 20% of the UK’s electricity for a few decades, helping limit the country’s carbon emissions. This contribution will change quickly as the existing fleet of nuclear power stations starts to retire from 2022, and so we are facing significant change over the remainder of this decade.
EDF operates the UK’s seven Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) power stations, as well as Sizewell B, a Pressurised Water Reactor with a longer term future. It is building Hinkley Point C (HPC) in Somerset and has plans for a replica project at Sizewell C in Suffolk.
This update to interested stakeholders provides some background information on the existing UK nuclear fleet and a summary of key priorities over the coming years.
Key Points – September 2021
• Since its acquisition of the UK nuclear fleet in 2009, EDF has invested £6billion and generated over 30% more low carbon electricity than was originally anticipated;
• EDF’s key priority is to sustain safe, reliable and commercially viable operations, ensuring nuclear excellence remains our priority as the AGR stations move into defueling and Sizewell B develops;
• Extending power generation from Sizewell B by 20 years (to 2055) is now under active consideration, with a final decision due in 2024;
• Hartlepool and Heysham 1 power stations are due to generate until March 2024; the end of generation timeline for Torness and Heysham 2 – currently 2030 - will be reviewed and updated when appropriate;
• EDF is responsible for defueling all seven AGR power stations over the next 10+ years under an agreement with Government signed on 23 June. Since August 2020, decisions have been taken to move Dungeness B into the defueling phase from June 2021, Hunterston B into defueling by January 2022 and Hinkley Point B by July 2022;
• EDF is committed to doing what it can to preserve technical skills and capabilities during this transition period for the nuclear industry. From mid-2022, EDF’s operational and technical headquarters will move to smaller, more modern offices near Gloucester.
The UK’s fleet of existing nuclear power stations, accountable for supplying 15-20% of the country’s power since the mid-1970s, is in a period of much anticipated change. In the last 12 months EDF has taken decisions on when three of the eight stations – Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B and Dungeness B – will enter defueling operations and it has also signed an important agreement with Government on the costs and accountabilities for decommissioning.
In its thermal business, EDF has recently sold its West Burton B CCGT plant to EIG and the West Burton A coal-fired station in Nottinghamshire will be decommissioned from September 2022 – until then two units will be available to satisfy capacity market contracts and support National Grid at times of need. EDF’s Cottam power station entered decommissioning in September 2019.
Investing to Help Britain Achieve Net Zero
Employing around 5,000 people directly, the existing fleet of UK nuclear power stations has, since 1976, been quietly powering the country and helping limit carbon emissions. EDF acquired the UK operating fleet in 2009 and has so far invested £6billion to keep the stations generating and extend operating lifetimes.
At the time of acquisition five of the seven AGR stations were due to be closed by 2018, with only two stations (Torness and Heysham 2) still due to be operating and only until 2023. As a result of EDF’s £6billion investment, by 2020 the fleet had delivered over 30% more power than had initially been assumed at the point of acquisition and most station lifetimes
have been extended by several years. Over the next five years (2022-26), the intent is to invest a further £1.5billion in maintenance, inspections and plant upgrades.
Soon we will see the fleet achieve the 2,000TWh milestone, enough low carbon electricity to power all of the UK’s 29 million homes for 18 years. The carbon emissions avoided is like taking all of the UK’s cars off the roads for 10 years and this power has been generated from a relatively small operational footprint of under a square mile.
Maintaining the strong safety track record of the UK fleet, and instilling public confidence in nuclear as a key way to help solve the climate crisis, continue to be the key priorities.
Sizewell B: 20 Year Life Extension Opportunity
Sizewell B power station in Suffolk started operations in 1995 and has a design based on standard pressurised water reactor technology in common use around the world, differing from the seven other stations in the fleet. According to a detailed study recently published in the Energy Journal, Sizewell B’s power output has displaced generation that would have
emitted 145 million tonnes of CO2 over the period between 1995 and 2019.
Sizewell B is currently scheduled to generate power until 2035 and EDF is actively exploring a 20-year life extension opportunity to take output to 2055. A final investment decision is anticipated by 2024.
Outlook for AGR Fleet: Remaining Generation During the 2020s
Three of the seven stations in the AGR fleet will start defueling operations from 2022. Power generation from stations in Hartlepool on Teesside and Heysham 1, in Lancashire, is due to continue until March 2024, representing 41 years operation against the original design life of 25-30 years. This has been achieved through sustained investment and careful
stewardship of the stations.
Torness power station in East Lothian and Heysham 2 in Lancashire are the most modern of the AGR fleet, starting operations in 1988 and are now generating a few years beyond their original 25-30 year design life. They are also the highest performing assets in the fleet, having generated a higher average annual output than the five other stations.
Working with specialist engineering companies and academics, EDF is actively managing the expected lifetimes of both stations, through regular inspections and modelling and building on the experience gained elsewhere in the fleet. The end of generation timeline for Torness and Heysham 2 is currently 2030, according to a review taken in 2015-16. A further
lifetime review will be undertaken in due course, to determine whether any revision is required.
Our overall objective is to maximise low carbon output from these key national assets, as long as it is safe and commercially viable and while EDF maintains ongoing regulatory support.
Nuclear Decommissioning: EDF Will Defuel All Seven AGR Stations
As confirmed by Government in late June, EDF will be responsible for defueling all seven AGR nuclear power stations, starting with Hunterston B in January 2022 and Hinkley Point B in mid-2022. Each power station will be defueled as efficiently as possible and taken to a fuel-free state, before being transferred to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) for the next stages of decommissioning. The first station transfer, Hunterston B, is due to take place in 2025-26.
As confirmed in early June, Dungeness B power station in Kent is now in the defueling phase and will aim to start defueling as soon as regulatory permissions are granted. Dungeness will take longer to defuel than the other six AGR stations, due to the requirement for extra preparation time and its unique design. Its reactors are around 25% bigger and the design of the fuel route has limitations when compared to other AGRs.
Nuclear Skills: Applying Our Technical Skills to Future Technologies
If nuclear power is to fulfil its potential in helping the UK achieve its net zero ambitions, then preserving key technical skills during this transformation phase is fundamental. EDF plays a key role in the national nuclear skills landscape. As well as chairing the board of the National College for Nuclear, we also lead on a number of activities on the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group.
EDF’s nuclear skills are nation-wide, with specialists across our sites and a large base in Gloucester. From mid-2022, up to 1,000 of the country’s top nuclear engineers, scientists and support staff will move to new headquarters near Gloucester.
At sites approaching end of generation we are preserving crucial nuclear skills by supporting our people to transfer to other sites, or retrain to stay at their current location through defueling. At Hunterston B we have already supported moves to Torness and the Heysham power stations, have agreements in place with HPC and are retraining maintenance staff to work in operations. Our investment in training across the existing fleet totalled £35million in 2020.
Last year, EDF established the Technical Client Organisation to help secure and develop the expertise to support light water reactor technology, both at HPC, on Sizewell B and on the Sizewell C project. Along with partners, EDF also opened a new engineering design centre in Bristol to support the next phase of construction at HPC. Initiatives like these are helping to support the future options for nuclear in the UK and sustain technical skills. Several hundred EDF employees have taken up roles in HPC, since the project began, and joined the team developing the Sizewell C opportunity.
Operations and technical support for the existing fleet involves close collaboration with contract partners and suppliers. In 2020 EDF spent £800million to support its operational sites with 1,500 suppliers, over 90% of these being UK-based.
Some of the specialist skills involved in managing the AGR fleet, such as high temperature know-how, will be vital to the growing interest in Advanced Modular Reactors and EDF is collaborating with the National Nuclear Laboratory and engineering companies on this. The nuclear licencing knowledge, and ability to support new entrants for modular reactors,
are also essential to preserve as the UK considers the next phase of the industry’s development. Lastly, EDF continues to work with the UKAEA on how to best support their fusion project and is also looking at opportunities to become involved in hydrogen and energy storage projects at our existing sites, in collaboration with other parts of EDF Group.
For further information, contact:
Matt Taylor, Head of Communications and External Affairs - Generation:
Fiona McCall, External Relations Manager - Generation: