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EDF to begin decommissioning UK's AGR nuclear stations

The government and EDF have announced new arrangements to decommission Britain’s seven advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors (AGRs), which are due to reach the end of their operational lives during this decade.

The AGRs were the second generation of nuclear power stations to be built in the UK, after the original Magnox plants.

The AGRs have long been scheduled to reach the end of their working lives on a rolling basis by 2030, with EDF announcing in June that the first, Dungeness B power station, has now closed.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has exercised an option to deliver better value for money for taxpayers in the decommissioning of AGRs, says the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). EDF will now aim to shorten the time it takes to safely remove the fuel from the power stations as they come offline, before working with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to transfer ownership of the stations to the NDA.

EDF had originally been responsible for total lifetime decommissioning of the AGR stations, which comprise Torness and Hunterston B in Scotland, Dungeness B in Kent, Hartlepool in Teesside, Heysham 1 and Heysham 2 in Lancashire and Hinkley Point B in Somerset. The NDA is currently decommissioning older Magnox stations, so its expertise and the economies of scale of working on these and the AGRs should ensure the long-term clean-up of these sites is done more efficiently – helping save the taxpayer an estimated £1bn, adds BEIS.

Once a nuclear station closes, the first stage of clean up requires all the nuclear fuel to be removed from the station (defueling), before the second phase of decommissioning begins. This involves the initial dismantling and removal of contaminated parts before the stations enter abeyance – care and maintenance – to allow radioactive materials in reactors to decay.

Owner and operator EDF decided to move Dungeness B AGR in Kent into the defueling phase with immediate effect last month. Since September 2018 the station has been in an extended outage in which EDF has been managing ongoing technical challenges that, it says, are not found at the other six AGR power stations. Although many have been overcome, new analysis highlighted additional risks within some components, including parts within the fuel assemblies.

As a result, EDF has taken a decision not to restart the plant. The final generation of electricity in 2018 means the plant ran for 10 years longer than its original design life, in line with expectations when it was acquired by EDF in 2009.

Construction began at Dungeness B in 1967 and plant connected to the electricity grid in 1983. It was to be the first of a new wave of UK nuclear power stations. In 2016 Dungeness had its best ever year, says EDF, generating enough energy to meet the needs of some 2mn homes.

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Organisation: EDF

Subjects: Decommissioning Nuclear

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