The Magic of Self-Healing Bricks

Reuters reported on October 13th that the new Hinckley C Nuclear power station would not now appear on the previous magic date of 2018 (a date about which I’ve expatiated at length previously).

It will, instead ‘after construction risks and costs have risen’ now come on stream by ‘2020 at the earliest’ This is the new magic date, being the date when the new plant in Wylfa will also now come on line after the purchase of land for its construction by the Horizon consortium. The announcement is a remarkable first in that at least the Flammanville Nuclear reactor presently crawling its way to completion in France has declared several years delay a few months into its building programme, whilst Hinkley C is similarly declaring before a stone has been laid.  The facile reaction to this is ‘I told you so’ and the more grown–up one is that this represents a serious emerging energy ‘gap’ as the Government struggles to fill holes  left by the closure of current generating plant prior to our spanking new nuclear fleet (and other new generation) coming on stream.

So is there a plan B? Except for George Osborne, surely everyone has one? Well, yes, I think there is. For this we need to turn no further than a speech given by Vincent De Rivaz CEO of EDF energy to the (probably not very hostile) Nuclear Development forum, just a few days ago on October 27th (here, pdf).   There will, said Mr De Rivas, be “an adjusted timetable” (that’s the two years) and he cited a number of reasons for this. But he said that “has never meant a suspended timetable.” And anyway, he concluded (and here comes plan B) “The existing plants are performing well. We should remember the role that safe life extension can have in helping to ease the energy gap. Today, we make an assumption of an average five years extension across the AGR (Advanced Gas cooled reactor) fleet.”

So there it is.  No gap! Hooray!  Just add a bit of ‘life extension’ to the old plants and you’re home free. Well not just free, but actually in the money for an even longer period because of the free money coming EDF’s way for any power their reactors produce from now on, as I set out recently here . In his speech Mr De Rivas did playfully remind DECC to get on with the ‘contract for difference’ in the Electricity Market reform programme that guarantees this.

Specifically, EDF have already said in December 2010 that two reactors, Heysham1 and Hartlepool reactors will get five more years life to 2019, and, so a report suggests ‘its five other AGRs in Britain could have their life extended by an average of five years.’

But wait! A cynic has entered the room. He’s saying something in a low sneering voice.  Didn’t Hartlepool and Heysham suffer from prolonged outages a few years ago because of cracks in their graphite brick cores?  And didn’t British Energy (before they went bust) warn in 2004 that four plants, Hinkley B, Hunterston Heysham 2 and Thorness had such serious cracking that it was all but impossible to extend their lifetimes? Well yes, then cynic, one might say that accounts for all the AGR power stations Mr De Rivas is contemplating for plan B except for one, Dungeness B, which has already had a ten year life extension from 2008 to 2018. (Oh, and by the way, Hinkley point B and Hunterston have also already had five year extensions to 2016 despite British Energy’s 2004 warnings.)

But that’s a cynic’s view. No doubt the bricks have healed themselves, or some great technique has been invented to allow them to do so. After all, Ernest Saunders did recover from Alzheimer’s after his fraud trial was cancelled, didn’t he?

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