EDF announced this week that it is bringing forward the closure dates of two of its nuclear power stations – Heysham 2 in Lancashire, and Tornesss in East Lothian, are now expected to close in 31 March 2028 instead of 2030.
Accelerating the closure of the aging AGR fleet
As I outlined in my previous post, there have been concerns that these power stations may need to close earlier than expected after consideration of the problems discovered at Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B which led to their early closure.
Hinkley Point B (“HPB”) and Hunterston B were the first two Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (“AGRs”) to open in 1976 are both closing within the next year – one unit at Hunterston has already begun de-fuelling, with the other unit set to close in January, while HPB will close no later than July 2022. The closures have been prompted by the discovery of cracking in their graphite cores which caused prolonged safety outages.
Both Heysham 2 and Torness have already generated almost as much power in running for 33 years as Hinkley Point B and Hunterston did in 45 years, which is important because it is the radiation levels generated running the plants that led to the cracking, meaning that either plant could start to develop problematic cracks earlier than expected.
Once cracks emerge, they will have only three or four years of safe running left. Last year a report by the Office for Nuclear Regulation found that cracking at Torness could begin to emerge in mid-2022, which could suggest that the closure date would need to be brought forward again. Campaigners assert that design differences between Torness and Hunterston B make Torness more vulnerable to the issue.
This is all bad news for the nuclear power in Britain, and new nuclear cannot reasonably be expected to fill the gap.
Taishan problems might derail European EPR projects
Hinkley Point C is currently expected to open in June 2026, but recent issues at Taishan 1 in China suggest there might be a design flaw with the European Pressurised Water Reactor (“EPR”) technology deployed at both sites. Since I wrote my post, a reader drew my attention to this article which provides more information about the whistle-blower’s disclosures.
Apparently, the whistle-blower, who works at a French nuclear power company, has claimed that more than 70 fuel rods were damaged, significantly more than the number acknowledged by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment in June, when it stated that “about five” rods were affected.
The whistle blower has suggested that the damage could be due to a design flaw, relating to “a not-very-successful hydraulic system at the bottom of the vessel which gives an uneven distribution of power in the assemblies. A transverse current is created in the core and causes the assemblies to move, especially those at the periphery.” These movements, also characterised as “vibrations and shocks” damaged the fuel rods.
Following the whistle-blower’s claims, the Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radiation (“CRIIRAD”), a Paris-based NGO established in 1986 to monitor radioactive leaks in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster sent an open letter to the French nuclear regulator, ASN, detailing the concerns and how they might relate to other EPRs such as the flagship project at Flamanville in France.
Following pressure from Greenpeace and others, ASN announced last week that the EPR at Flamanville would not be authorised to open until there is a satisfactory explanation of the situation at Taishan.
“There is still a lot of work to be done on the [Flamanville] site before start-up operations, and feedback from the experience of the Taishan 1 EPR deviation must take place,” – Julien Collet, deputy general manager at ASN
Faults remove four French nuclear reactors from service
There has been further bad news for EDF after regular maintenance at its Civaux plant in western France uncovered defects in pipes in the safety system at the reactor which has led to the closure of four reactors, two at Civaux and two at Chooz near the Belgian border. The faults were detected close to welds on the safety injection-system circuit, which are likely to have been caused by corrosion.
The Civaux reactors are due to re-open on 31 March and 30 April, while the Chooz reactors should return to service on 23 January. The loss of these four reactors in the middle of winter is creating concerns over French capacity margins and increases the likelihood of imports from GB, although capacity is currently limited by outages on IFA 1. European power prices have surged as a result.