Monday, December 17, 2007

U.K. Nuclear Power Stations to Soldier-on?

Plans have been announced by British Energy to keep the Hinkley B (in Somerset, England) and Hunterston B (in North Ayrshire, Scotland) nuclear power plants running for an additional five years. Both began producing power in 1976, and it is now intended to run them up to 2016, at least, with tests to be made in 2013 to determine if they can be operated safely beyond that initial target. All but one of the current U.K.'s reactors is due for decommissioning by 2024, which means that the nuclear industry has a lot of engineering-work on its hands, and especially so if plans to increase the overall nuclear capacity of the nation are followed.

It is thought that other nuclear power stations owned by the company might also have their operating lives extended, and for Hinkley B and Hunterston, the move will cost around £90 million over the funds for its current programme of investment. Both plants suffered from certain infrastructural difficulties in the past year, resulting in an operational load of 60%, which it is believed can be summarily increased to 70%, and would make the extra five years of useful life economically worthwhile.

Two more nuclear plants, at Hartlepool and Heysham 1, have suffered in their output after wire-corrosion in their boiler-closure units was identified in only the past few months. It is believed that the strategy will help to maintain the U.K.'s electricity output while alternatives are implemented, whatever they might prove to be. For example, Hinkley B and Hunterston provide enough power for over one million homes. British Energy holds around one sixth of the national generating capacity.

The government of Scotland is apparently not opposed to the scheme of running its power stations up to the end of their natural life, while Westminster has yet to make a formal announcement but it seems likely it will endorse such a scheme south of the border. I wonder which will give-out first: the world's nuclear power plants themselves or their supplies of nuclear fuel, as some aver?

Related Reading.
"Longer life for British Energy's nuclear power stations." Yorkshire Post, December 12th, 2007.

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