Construction gathers pace

9 June 2017

At a recent conference on European nuclear power, details on the start of construction at EDF Energy’s £18 billion 3200MW Hinkley Point C power station gave some cause for optimism to a European nuclear industry struggling with a stagnant nuclear construction market. By Rumyana Vakarelska

Theresa May’s government sees a major role for nuclear in UK energy policy, like her predecessors,” Peter Haslam, head of policy at the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, told the Platts European Nuclear Power Conference in Brussels on 23 March.

Haslam said that the UK is facing major energy problems and relying increasingly on gas imports. By the end of 2030, most of the current UK nuclear fleet will have closed, including all of the advanced gas-cooled reactors, built and designed in the UK. The AGRs have had technological problems, including cracking in the boiler spines of some units and reliability issues. However, the fleet has received substantial investment under the ownership of EDF Energy. Reliability has improved considerably in the last few years and all the plants have won life-extensions.

The UK also has ambitious carbon reduction targets that require new low- carbon power generation capacity, including nuclear and renewables, Haslam told the conference. He said that there is wide public support for these policies, as a result of which the government decided to proceed with Hinkley Point C. That confirmed its commitment to new nuclear as several developers are planning to build up to 16GW of new capacity across the UK.

Hinkley Point C will cost £18 billion from the start of construction until the plant’s first reactor starts up. The power plant will receive a predictable revenue stream: a guaranteed price of £92.50/MWh (in 2012 prices, increased in line with inflation) for electricity produced for the first 35 years of operation.

The cost of Hinkley Point C was “competitive” and a “benchmark,” but costs will have to fall if the proposed 16GW of other nuclear capacity is to be built, said Paul Spence, director of strategy and corporate affairs at EDF Energy.

Haslam said: “The wholesale electricity price has trended upwards in the last couple of months, but what it should really be compared to is the cost of building new stations with other forms of power.”

Hinkley Point C laying foundations

Spence said that work on Hinkley Point C was well under way with 1600 people working on site. He said that EDF Energy would “start pouring nuclear concrete for the [reactor] foundation” this spring (2017).

The ONR granted the “first consent for the start of construction” at Hinkley Point C on 27 March, when it agreed to “placement of the structural concrete for the first nuclear safety- related structure at the Hinkley Point C site.”

Mike Finnerty, deputy chief nuclear inspector and director of ONR’s New Reactors Programme, said, “our consent for the first nuclear safety concrete at Hinkley Point C is a key regulatory milestone marking start of construction of the first nuclear power station since Sizewell B in Suffolk.” Sizewell B is the only operating PWR in the UK and the country’s most recent nuclear plant. It started up in 1995.

Spence said, “There is a growing sense that nuclear is a modern technology. It is very important to get away from the idea that nuclear technology is a thing of the past.” He added, “Hinkley Point C is a benchmark project in many ways, so we are very conscious of the requirement to prove that the industry can develop new projects to time and on budget.”

Spence added that though the UK fleet is ageing and a series of life extensions have already been granted or are planned, EDF Energy was “starting to think about” if there are “incremental opportunities for further life extensions.”

Horizon’s targets 2019 FID

“I am very optimistic and hopeful EDF will be successful, as we are expecting to make a final investment decision (FID) in 2019” for the planned Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant, Duncan Hawthorne, Horizon Nuclear Power Limited’s chief executive, told the Brussels conference.

The Wylfa Newydd project will comprise two 1300MW GE-Hitachi UK ABWRs adjacent to the shut down Wylfa Magnox plant in Anglesey, north Wales. Horizon is a 100% subsidiary of Japan’s Hitachi Ltd.

Hawthorne said of Hinkley Point C, “One has to openly acknowledge that complex projects like these have a high degree of risk, but what you can do is spend a lot of time to mitigate the risk as best you can.”

Hawthorne said many projects came out badly as they are started too soon. “I will apply for the Wylfa power station site licence later this month and expect the Japanese government to offer financial support for the project”, he added. The application was made on 4 April.

However, availability of people is a big concern, as this threatens the confidence level of building on budget and on time, Hawthorne said.  

New Build Peter Haslam, head of policy at the NIA
New Build Hinkley Point C site in March (Credit: EDF Energy)

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