EDF Energy intends to prolong the operating lifespans of its nuclear power plants in Hartlepool and Heysham 1

EDF Energy, a subsidiary of France’s state-owned EDF (EDF.PA), announced on Thursday that it would extend the operational lifespan of its Hartlepool and Heysham 1 nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom by two years, until March 2026.

The decision comes as the country’s energy markets are volatile and amidst a need to increase energy security.

The two plants, with a combined capacity of 2.3 gigawatts and accounting for approximately 5% of the country’s electricity supply, were previously scheduled to close in 2024. However, EDF Energy stated last year that it would assess the possibility of keeping them open beyond that time.

After conducting a thorough assessment of the technical and commercial factors for the extensions, EDF Energy confirmed the decision. Matt Sykes, the Managing Director of EDF Energy’s generation business, emphasized the importance of providing zero-carbon and affordable electricity, regardless of weather conditions.

Amid a cold snap, the UK was forced earlier this week to activate two coal power units to ensure the continuity of its energy supply.

According to Matt Sykes, the two-year extension for the Hartlepool and Heysham 1 nuclear plants would result in a reduction of six billion cubic metres of gas and ten million tonnes of carbon dioxide. While the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) confirmed that formal approval was not necessary for a plant life extension, EDF must submit updated safety cases for the plants, which will be evaluated.

EDF operates all eight of Britain’s nuclear power plants, which provide approximately 13% of the country’s electricity, and has invested over £7 billion ($8.4 billion) in the UK nuclear fleet since 2009. The company also stated that it has exceeded its output forecast by over 30%.

Heysham 1 in northwest England and Hartlepool in northeast England were initially intended to cease generating power in 2014 after 40 years of service. However, EDF has the option of extending its generation for another year beyond March 2026. The end-of-generation dates for two additional plants, Torness and Heysham 2, remain unchanged in March 2028.

As gas and electricity prices soared across Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Britain has faced challenges in maintaining its power supply. To bolster the country’s electricity supply and meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, Britain aims to increase low-carbon nuclear power generation to meet approximately 25% of electricity demand by 2050.

EDF’s Hinkley Point C, the UK’s first new nuclear plant in more than two decades, has faced delays and rising costs and is not anticipated to be operational until 2027. Several countries in Europe, including France, Belgium, and Sweden, have proposed extending the lifespan of their ageing nuclear reactors to avoid a power supply shortfall in the coming years. However, Belgium’s nuclear regulator recently advised against extending the lifespan of the country’s three oldest reactors.

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