UK faces energy generation crisis from 2028; Hinkley Point C delayed again

The UK has “no immediate replacement” for the energy generated by seven nuclear power stations that are expected to close by 2028 except for imports, a report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.

In 2020, nuclear power accounted for 16 per cent of UK electricity generation, but the timetable for the closure of the EDF-owned facilities by 2028 will result in a significant reduction in the UK’s generating capacity.

While the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) has acknowledged there will be a gap in generating capacity, it said it was “not concerned with there being a shortage owing to its confidence that electricity capacity could be bought from other sources ahead of time.”

Nevertheless, the PAC recommends that DBEIS and EDF should “double-check whether it would be technically feasible, safe and cost-effective to extend the lives of any of the remaining operating stations”.

The Committee, which is formed from a cross-party group of MPs, also said that taxpayers were facing “a disproportionate amount of risk for meeting future decommissioning costs” for the seven plants and criticised the government’s investment strategy for its Nuclear Liabilities Fund which is not large enough to cover the mounting costs.

DBEIS recently reached agreement with EDF that, after it defuels the stations, their ownership will be transferred to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to complete decommissioning.

In its report, it found that taxpayer money had already been used to top up the Nuclear Liabilities Fund by an additional £10.7bn in just two years.

The estimates for how much decommissioning costs have almost doubled since March 2004 to £23.5bn in March 2021. The pace at which the stations can be defueled could have a big impact on the costs, between £3.1bn and £8.0bn depending on the time taken.

The Committee said the handover agreement does not appear to sufficiently “incentivise cost efficiency and ensure a smooth transfer of defueled stations to the NDA”.

The PAC’s deputy chair, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, said: “Our current generation of nuclear power plants are reaching the end of life and there is huge uncertainty over the risks and timescales of decommissioning and commissioning this energy infrastructure.

“But we are seeing clearly the near-term risks of having to import energy. Government must prioritise the deliverable, safe and efficient plan to decommission these facilities and sustainably replace energy production that we owe to future generations, to alleviate the impact of rising energy costs on the public and business and insulate the UK from disruptions to our energy supply.

“The decommissioning dates of these power stations were clear decades ago. The Government should have been commissioning this replacement at that time, so that by now they would be generating base load power into the grid. For these major projects with long lead times, effective forward planning by Government is essential.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s only nuclear plant that is currently undergoing construction, Hinkley Point C, has had its opening day delayed again by a year and the cost has risen by an extra £3bn.

EDF, which owns the forthcoming facility, said the first reactor unit will now start operating in June 2027, a year later than planned, although the company is expected to swallow the rising costs of the plant without impacting British taxpayers.

A reduction in workers allowed on the site in Somerset due to pandemic safety measures resulted in the loss of more than half a million days of critical work in 2020 and 2021, the French energy giant said.

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