EDF is considering extending the life of two UK nuclear power plants due to the energy crisis

France’s EDF is considering extending the life of two UK nuclear power plants due to the severity of the energy crisis.

EDF said on Wednesday it was looking into whether there was a case to keep Hartlepool nuclear power station in County Durham and Heysham 1 open on the north west coast of England near Lancaster. Both plants were scheduled to close in March 2024.

EDF operates all eight UK nuclear power stations, five of which still supply electricity to the grid, around 13% of UK electricity. The entire fleet is scheduled to close by 2028, with the exception of Sizewell B, which will close in 2035.

When EDF took over the nuclear fleet in 2009, Heysham 1 and Hartlepool were scheduled to run until 2014. After technical reviews, this was extended to 2019, and in 2016, after further reviews, a further five-year extension was approved.

Sources said any additional lifetime for the stations would likely be much shorter than previous expansions. The stations — which generate 2.2 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 3.5 million homes — have been in operation for four decades.

EDF said it decided to launch the review “given the severity of the energy crisis and the results of recent graphite inspections,” and said an extension “will depend on the results of graphite inspections in the coming months.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused turmoil in energy markets, sending gas and electricity prices skyrocketing. It has also caused an international push for gas supplies and raised concerns about possible power outages this winter.

The Government has scrambled to shore up winter energy supplies, signing contracts to keep coal-fired power stations in Yorkshire and the East Midlands on standby, including EDF’s West Burton A power station in Nottinghamshire.

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “The government had no choice but to keep these assets longer term. It underlines that we need a long-term plan for energy production. We are a decade late on nuclear power and if we don’t act fast enough we will miss out on other fuels like hydrogen. The government needs to give people the confidence to invest.”

Some power generation companies, including those with nuclear, legacy solar and wind power contracts, have reaped an unexpected windfall from the rise in electricity prices, although their costs have not risen, prompting calls for a windfall tax.

EDF said its nuclear fleet would generate 42 terawatt hours of electricity in 2022. Because it had sold its service in advance, it delivered at “well below current wholesale prices.”

The Guardian announced earlier this month that Centrica, which owns a 20% stake in the nuclear fleet alongside EDF, is looking to renegotiate its power generation contracts.

Tom Burke, co-founder of green think tank E3G said: “In the current climate it makes a lot of sense [to extend the plants’ lifespans]. The question is mostly about cost: is the extra time you’re buying worth the cost of keeping it? The Office for Nuclear Regulatory Affairs isn’t going to play fast and loose on safety, so it depends on spending. With electricity prices where they are now, it probably makes sense.”

EDF plans to invest £1 billion in nuclear fleet from 2023 to 2025. The indebted company, which is fully nationalized by the French government, is developing the delayed and overbudget Hinkley Point C project in Somerset.

It is also behind plans for a sister station, Sizewell C, in Suffolk, which was given the green light in the final days of Boris Johnson’s tenure.

Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Getting the most out of our existing nuclear power plants is vital to ensure Britain has a secure electricity supply in the future.”

Labor leader Keir Starmer pledged on Tuesday to set up Great British Energy, a public energy company powered by clean British energy, if elected.

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