At its peak in around 1997, nuclear power contributed some 27% of the UK’s electricity needs. Since then many of the older nuclear stations have closed down with only one of first generation of Magnox reactors still producing electricity, but that is due to close in December of this year. Now only 18% of the UK’s electricity is provided by the remaining fleet of Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors (AGRs) and the country’s only Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B in Suffolk. But this picture will change if plans for proposed new nuclear power stations get the go ahead.
Hinkley Point C (HPC) is destined to be the UK’s first new nuclear plant since the Sizewell B PWR came on stream in 1995. It’s also destined to pave the way for more new nuclear power stations planned to be built around the UK over the next few years.
Three types of reactor are envisaged for the UK’s new nuclear fleet: the 1.6 GW European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR), two of which are to be built by EDF Energy at Hinkley Point C in Somerset and two at Sizewell C; the AP1000, which is the next generation of PWR, three of which are to be provided by NUGEN for the Moorside site in Cumbria, giving a combined output of 3.4 GW; and the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, ABWR, four of which are proposed to be built by Horizon Nuclear Power, two each at Wylfa, Gwynedd, and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, with a total power output of 5.4GW.
The Government sees nuclear as key to helping it achieve its carbon emission targets and the Hinkley Point project is a fundamental part of that plan. But the EPR is not without its controversy. Project delays of building similar reactors at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanvillle in France have cast doubt on the EDF Energy’s UK prospects, and notably the company has now abandoned its initial target commissioning date of 2023.
Getting the go ahead to construct and operate HPC requires a number of legal and regulatory hurdles that have to be jumped. EDF Energy has had to meet both UK and EU policy requirements:
- Because it is a nuclear project, the design had to pass the “justification” test required under EU radiation protection legislation; the decision justifying the technology was passed in a UK parliamentary vote in October 2010.
- The European Commission confirmed in July 2012 that the proposed station would meet the requirements of Articles 37 and 41 of the Euratom Treaty relating to impact on other Member States and investment objectives.
- In November 2012 the Office for Nuclear Regulation granted a nuclear site licence to install and operate HPC and issued a Design Acceptance Certificate following completion of its Generic Design Assessment.
- In March 2013, the Environment Agency granted permits allowing the discharge and disposal of radioactive wastes from HPC.
- Under the National Policy Statements for Energy Infrastructure, planning permission for the project was given by the Secretary of State in March 2013.
- Also in 2013 key agreements were reached with the unions relating to industrial relations and with the Government on commercial terms for investment and EDF Energy’s Funded Decommissioning Programme.
- In October 2014, the European Commission found that the long-term contract (Contract for Difference) and the guarantee constitute an appropriate and proportionate way for the UK to meet its need for secure, low carbon energy.
So what other hurdles are left? Well, there’s the thorny question of acquiring the money to finance the project! Visitors to the Hinkley Point site will be forgiven for thinking that construction has already started, with the development of new roads and drainage systems having taken place over the last year or so, and preferred bidders for the main contracts having been announced. However, this is all part of the preparations in anticipation of a positive “final investment decision” being taken in the near future.
A step closer to that decision was taken on 21st September, by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, when he announced during a trade mission to China that Infrastructure UK would provide £2bn of government guarantees related to HPC in support of Chinese investment in the project. This step also is not without its own controversy as it is seen as being related to Chinese desire to build its own design of nuclear power plant at Bradwell in Essex.
Nevertheless, all eyes are now on the forthcoming state visit by President Xi Jinping to the UK between October 20 and 23 when it is expected that a significant nuclear deal will be signed between the two governments. Will that be the last hurdle? Not wishing to take the analogy too far, it should be remembered that the last hurdle is however, not the finishing line! That will only be achieved when the investment decision is taken.
Introduction to Prospect Energy
Prospect Energy is an energy specialist technical consultancy firm based in London and the Midlands of the UK. It is a sister company of Prospect Law and the two firms provide advice on energy, infrastructure and resources projects for clients in the UK and internationally.
For more information, please contact Edmund Robb on 07930 397531, or by email on: [email protected].