The six-month closure of Hunterston B in Scotland, following recently discovered cracks, will cost EDF Energy £120 million in revenues and has raised serious questions over the role of nuclear in the UK’s energy mix.
Hunterston was one of seven Advanced Gas-Cooling Reactors (AGRS) turned on during the 1970s and 1980s – many of which have had their lifespans extended into the 2020s as EDF maintains that issues experienced at the Scottish plant are highly unlikely.
However, a number of experts have disagreed with EDF’s confidence.
Peter Atherton, an analyst at the consultancy Cornwall Insight, said: “Let’s say worst-case scenario they found a big graphite core problem and Hunterston never comes back on. That would be a big hole in the plan [for electricity production].”
Pete Roche, a nuclear critic and consultant in Edinburgh, expressed concerns over the plant’s restart. He said: “Cracks could prevent control rods from being inserted causing the nuclear fuel to overheat, potentially resulting in a nuclear accident.”
It is estimated that the 40% cut in the station’s production will cost EDF between £100 million to £120 million in lost revenue, which is relatively insignificant in comparison to the issues it faced at its French plants which resulted in a 16% cut in profits last year.
With continued delays and rising costs of EDF’s Hinkley Point, the UK is increasingly reliant on its ageing nuclear fleet which is evidently in the midst of reliability issues.