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Is EDF using Britain’s “windfall tax” as an excuse to get out of uneconomic Hartlepool and Heysham nuclear reactors?

EDF has complained that the British Government’s windfall tax, introduced on 1 January, may mean an early end for operations at Hartlepool & Heysham 1, but the Nuclear Free Local Authorities believe that these could be ‘crocodile tears’ with the tax providing the perfect excuse for the French-state owned company to bow out of running these increasingly unreliable reactors, which are already way past their close-by date.

In his November statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt extended the windfall tax to a charge upon the ‘excess profits’ of all energy generators, including nuclear and renewable generators. Many commercial energy businesses generating electricity from fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable technologies have made significantly increased profits as the wholesale energy price has been pegged to the price of gas, which skyrocketed following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

Hartlepool and Heysham 1 are two of EDF’s five remaining British plants generating electricity from aging
Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors. Whilst they may be called ‘advanced’, the reactors were installed between 1976 and 1988, and all are well past their operational date. The reactors at both plants were off-line for significant periods, both planned and unplanned, for repairs, maintenance and safety checks. Indeed, EDF Energy reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency that Hartlepool 1 was offline 4,767 hours (equivalent to 198 days), Hartlepool 2 3,534 (147 days), Heysham 1, 3,165 (132 days), and Heysham 2 a
whopping 7,122 (297 days).

NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor Lawrence O’Neill believes that EDF’s threat to shut the reactors in 2024 citing the new windfall tax is in fact hollow:

“Before there was even a hint of a UK government windfall tax, EDF Energy had already announced that
after an earlier lifetime extension they intended to close the Hartlepool and Heysham 1 plants on 2024 so this is clearly just scaremongering. “

The NFLA has raised repeatedly with the Office of Nuclear Regulation that the continued safe operation of these reactors is being compromised over time by the degradation and cracking of the graphite core moderators.

Closure will soon in any case be inevitable as these plants become increasingly uneconomic to run. “You can see from the latest operational figures supplied to the international regulator that the reactors at Hartlepool and Heysham are off-line for significant periods, in two cases for well over half the year. So much for nuclear being a source of reliable baseload
power”.

NFLA 3rd Jan 2023

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January 4, 2023 - Posted by | business and costs, UK

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