In a press statement, nuclear power firm British Energy has confirmed four of its reactors at two UK stations are likely to remain out of action until the end of the year and may perhaps not be in action again until 2009.
Two reactors at Hartlepool and the two comprising the Heysham 1 station, which combined account for about 25 per cent of British Energy's generating capacity, have been out of service after a routine inspection revealed problems with the boiler units last October. British Energy says they have concluded that remedial engineering work is required to enable the return to service of all four reactors, to repair corroded wire windings around the steel and concrete boiler closure units (BCUs) form part of the reactor pressure boundary (More on this on the World Nuclear News web site).
Heysham 1's two reactors are out of action because of BCU issues. Heysham 2 is not affected and is in operation.
The cost of the remedial engineering work is expected to be less than £50m, but that is in addition to the costs of inspection and assessment of the units incurred in financial year 2007/08 of around £20m.
Despite problems with the current reactors, British Energy says it hopes to build a third at Heysham, after the Government signalled its intentions to restart a nuclear energy program in the UK earlier this month. A spokesman for British Energy recently told The Westmorland Gazette: "If we are committed to nuclear playing a part in the UK's energy mix then as plants such as Heysham 1 reach the end of their lives we will need to have the next generation of plants in place - on the existing sites because we already own the land.
"We will be working towards having everything in place to replace Heysham 1 by the end of the next decade."
At a meeting of stakeholder groups and other community representatives on the future of Heysham power station held last August, British Energy argued the employment that new building would produce would be significant "and there would be economic benefit to creating competitive advantage with rest of world" (A report on that meeting is available here in PDF format from the Nucelar Power 2007 consultation web site).Heysham Power Station employs 1300 people and around €50 m (just over £37m) in wages a year - a significant contribution to the local economy.
A third nuclear reactor was considered some years ago, provoking huge local opposition. In 1996, British Energy dropped plans to build a gas-fired power station at Heysham, citing inadequate transmission capacity.
Heysham 1 is currently scheduled for decommissioning in 2014 but Heysham 2, which went online in 1988, is not scheduled for decommissioning until 2023 according to British Energy.
British Energy has eight nuclear power stations across the UK: Torness, Hunterston, Heysham 1 and 2, Hartlepool, Hinkley, Dungeness and Sizewell (15 reactors in total, but only one at Sizewell which is a Pressurised Water Reactor).