The need for the UK to address its aging nuclear reactor fleet was highlighted at a conference in London this week.
Alistair Smith, acting chairman for of the Power Industries Division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, warned that all but one reactor was coming towards the end of its original lifetime.
Wylfa in Wales is due to go offline at the end of this year and by 2031 Smith said that “only Sizewell B will still be running”.
Speaking the IMechE’s conference ‘UK Electricity: Resilience and Security’, Smith – a –veteran of the nuclear ind ustry who has worked in almost all of the UK’s reactors – said the current UK nuclear plants were “the workhorses” of the British energy mix, providing 9 GW of electricity.
He said that the obvious and cheapest solution to the impending nuclear capacity crunch was to extend the lifetime of the existing plants, but he warned that currently “there is not a lot of incentive” to do this.
“Lifetime extension is not a sure thing. We are facing a difficult valley to cross if we cannot extend current nuclear plants.”
He said the deal struck by EDF with China General Nuclear to fund Hinkley Point C was long overdue: “It’s time to build new nuclear power stations – it’s been time to build them for years.”
It is hoped that the go-ahead for Hinkley Point C will create momentum for a new fleet of reactors – of eight potential sites earmarked by the goverment, six have firm plans in place – Hinkley C, Wylfa, Oldbury, Sizewell C and Bradwell. Only Hartlepool and Heysham so far remain without backers.
Smith said that to develop these sites would cost £100bn – “and it’s all coming from overseas. We have got to encourage international developers. We have to create an environment where this investment can come to the UK. And it’s got to be consistent over parliaments.”
He also stressed that the manpower need to fulfil a new fleet of reactors was as great as the financial commitment. “The requirement is enormous.”
Related feature articles: Which way forward for nuclear?